Yesterday was a strength day at the gym. I can feel when I have not been there enough. Things get loose at the joints and my hips ache from weak connections. It is amazing how much better I feel running when I’ve kept up with visits to the gym.
When I get to the gym I do not have a solid routine. While I never sacrifice the legs and hips for other exercises, sometimes I lose concentration a half hour into the workout and leave without doing the core strength so vital to all three triathlon disciplines; swim, ride and run.
So I need to build that routine.
During a holiday party, I happened to get a gift certificate to a personalized fitness trainer who specializes in core strength training. My son has benefited greatly from Crossfit and he’s admitted there are times when it is so hard it tests your ability to keep going. But that’s exactly what I need to open up the channels of perception and build upon a foundation that is much deeper than what I would habitually do.
All athletes need that stretch experience now and then. We’re all so capable of fooling ourselves into the easy path our course of progress begins to flatten out, then diminish. We need peak experiences and raw tests of strength or endurance to bring back that sense of wonder about what our bodies and minds can do. If you go out on a 90-mile ride and make it through 70 with the best gang of riders, you may have gotten dropped but think about it: You made it 70 miles at a hard, hard effort. That’s something to build upon.
The problem with building foundations is that the baseline work can be demotivating. It all starts so humbly and incrementally it hardly seems worth doing. Those first runs coming off a slow period or layoff seem so worthless. You trot along 3:00 per mile slower than your target race pace and can’t help thinking: “How does this even help?” But it does.
Same with those slogging rides in the spring winds. Sometimes the cyclometer dips below 10 miles an hour into a 30 mile gale and you’re like, “I am soooo slowww.” But it contributes.
And swimming laps in the pool when you’re not already fit? One of the worst feelings in the world. You swim lap after lap with no one watching but the bubbles you breathe and feel so goddamned alone. But you’re not. You’re training in the company of all the miles you’ve done before. On that count, you are never alone. Build on it.
It’s a plan fact that one must embrace the slow and the hard and the seemingly worthless efforts to build the start of a foundation. Take heart: once you get going and go back to the gym with a positive feeling about the last workout you did, your confidence builds on that feeling.
The hard part for triathletes is that these feelings of confidence and strength may not come along equally across all the sports. We tend to lag in our weakest sport, and that part of the foundation may require extra attention to bring it up to speed and keep it there. So be the architect of your own attitude: put the difficult first.
If you think about the foundation of triathlon as three legs on a table and strength work makes up the fourth, it pays to consider the idea that the work you put in should be reasonably balanced across all four legs or the table will tip and rock somewhere when you get to competition day. We all need something to build upon, but there is nothing more annoying than a table that tips when you lean on it, you know?