As athletes, we might imagine that change comes about in big breakthroughs. We train everyday hoping there will come a day when the nine-miler that felt hard last weekend suddenly feels easy.
Yet that’s not how it usually works. Instead, some segment of that nine-miler might feel good one week. Yet it gets buried in concerns over how slow we felt at the start, or how hard it was to finish.
That means we lose the good for the luxury of worrying over the not-so-good. I use the word “luxury” for good reason. Worry is a luxury you cannot afford as an athlete. If something worries you, there are two options. You can obsess over the cause, or you can do something to fix it.
Here’s where the process can get confusing. Fixing problems is seldom the result of an “instant” solution. Only once in a great while does that happen. I can point to the fortuitous gift of a pair of free Saucony Triumph running shoes as the near-immediate cure to my nagging Achilles tendon problems. It turned out that the angle of the heel counter on my Saucony Ride shoes were impinging those tendons, causing dire soreness.
The minute I tried those shoes, the problems went away. That was damned lucky.
More often, curing a problem such as an injury takes incremental steps to ascertain the source, implement the steps to adjust or adapt, and focus on the building blocks to return to health.
The same goes for training toward a goal. Progress typically does not happen by major leaps in performance. But anyone that has trained for weeks in the summer heat knows that the first cool day can result in surprisingly fast results. Absent the stifling heat and humidity, the body says “Let’s Go!” and suddenly the average pace per mile drops in chunks.
Training on hills or in consistent winds can make it seem as if you’re making no progress as well. But the minute you get on the flat, seemingly major changes take place. Actually the change was taking place all along. You just can’t see it when you’re climbing. The pace per mile doesn’t show the training effect taking place.
Out here in Illinois where it is flat and open, the winds are almost always a factor in how a training day goes. Riding 40 miles in what feels like a consistently strong wind from all directions can be most frustrating. If you’re alone, there is no break. Most triathletes have the relative benefit of getting down in aero position to slice through the wind.
But you get the point. Even on days when it feels like you are the slowest athlete on earth, good changes are still taking place. Strength builds in the legs when pedaling in the wind. It is important to pay attention to form and not try to “cheat” yourself into short bursts of speed just to make yourself feel better on the bike computer. Most times that results in equally flat sections of the ride where instead of going 21 you’re slogging along at 15.
It is in swimming that the positive changes are often the most difficult to ascertain. That’s why the change tossed next to my goggles on the nightstand caught my attention this morning. Swim training, more than any other segment of triathlon, is like putting change in the Piggy Bank of Performance. Swim workouts are typically done in an indoor pool or one that measures 25 or 50 meters. That brand of experience does not exactly replicated the open water experience. Which means open water is an almost entirely different sensation. NO need to stop, flip or turn! Just get out there and swim!
It’s not easy putting change into the performance bank in any of these three sports. Sometimes you don’t get the feedback you want. It can be frustrating as hell feeling like you’re not making progress. But there will come days when you can feel the progress you’ve made. Take stock and go “Alright! That was good!” And then get back to putting change in the bank.
It’s amazing how much that process can change you for the better in the long run.