training's greatest challenge - showing up for practice

in my first year with a triathlon coach - i have returned to an average 20 hours a week of training for the first time since college. i've learned how to train consistently in all three sports - never going more than 2 days without doing any one sport. i've started lifting weights again. i've begun interval training, hill repeats, 60, 70, and 80 mile bike rides. i do two, and sometimes three sports a day. i can tell you in clear detail the pains of going fast for an extended period of time in any of the three sports. to someone that doesn't do triathlons, i think that those pains are likely to be percieved as the primary challenges of the sport. but the pain of training and racing are expected. 

steve prefontaine once said, "a lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. i run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more." i think most people race triathlon for the same reason prefontaine ran. sure at the higher levels being the fastest on a given day is very important, but to most triathletes, it's about the internal battle that gered so obscurely described - to strive to achieve the painful sensations of training in their daily workouts and competitions. doing this provides each triathlete with the answer to the question asked before he/she decided to do his/her very first triation: "i wonder how hard i can push my self..." 

since testing our physical limits seems to generally be the primary objective of triathlon, i would not call it the greatest challenge. in fact, on some days, i tend to look forward to it. perfect example. 5 or 6 weeks ago, gered and i started doing some extended race pace intervals. 3 or 4 weeks ago, we both averaged 24.2 mph for 20 miles on the bike at the end of a 50 mile ride. we were thrilled! and i can't speak for gered on this, but i know that when i got home, i couldn't wait for the next workout. i couldn't wait to push myself that hard again, and go that fast again. most of the time, hard training yeilds results, and seeing those results is addictive. it's usually followed by the compulsion to push harder, and produce even more satisfying results. it's like gambling (or so i'm told), but maybe a little healthier for you. how many people walk away from a table when their up $500? when you're up - it feels easy to keep going all in... but what about when you're down?

anyone that has trained for anything for more than a month, knows that it can have its peaks and valleys. 

  • peaks being the times where training is addicting - workouts are strong, paces are fast, the weather is nice, there's excitement about how you're performing. 
  • valleys, are the times between. they can be brought on by a real crummy workout or string of workouts. you feel like you're working harder than you do when your on a peak, but you're going much slower, and everything hurts a lot more.

i just got out of a valley. i'd say i hit a solid valley about 3 times a year. twice in the winter and once in the spring. the summer is always filled with the excitement of racing - always a peak, and I usually ride that high all the way until the first time it snows, and I'm stuck on the trainer for a week. and because of the weather, i'm usually bound to hit a second valley one more time int he winter. the spring valley usually comes about a month after the weather has gotten nice. the warm weather has allowed me to go a bit faster outside - and my newfound speed is no longer exciting. there doesn't even necessarily have to be anything wrong - everything is just kinda blah. which is why i've come to call mid-may the "blah period" 

i used to work in a bike shop with spencer smith - a two time itu world champion at the olympic distance and 5th at ironman world championships. he told me that being successful at triathlon is not about any single workout or chunk of workouts - it's about showing up for practice every day - it's about being consistent. 

about two weeks ago i hit my spring valley. this year i think it was triggered by one terrible bike ride. maybe i'll go into the details of that fateful ride some other day, but for now i'll spare you. in any case, that was the day i rode into the valley. when you're in the valley, it's hard to do the work, but the real challenge is much simpler than that. get out there! trust my it's harder than it sounds...

there are two things i would recommend to help you keep showing up for practice:

  • first, if it is NOT your first year training for triathlons it will be helpful to anticipate your valleys as you plan your training schedule. if you can pin-point within a week or two, where your valleys fall, it's ideal to schedule a recovery week and the first week of a new cycle in that time period. then workouts in your valley won't be too demanding, and it will be easier to convince yourself to do them. also, you won't have to try and motivate yourself to push a hard work out too many times during your valley, and if you you have to, you'll be well rested enough to go encouraging speeds, and perform in a way that may help to get you out of the valley.
  • second, if you have a spring valley or one that has during race season, try to find a race that fits what you're looking for, and is only a couple of weeks after your anticipated valley. i've found that the excitement of the first race of my season being only 2 weeks after the end of my valley, what enough to keep me showing up for practice, even though i wasn't in the best place mentally.

 when are your valleys? do you do anything special to counter these seasons of your training?