Steve Trew: Hard Questions

During motivation’s darkest days in deep mid-winter, it’s time to consider what you really want and ask those hard questions, says Steve Trew.

At right about this time of year, after the ITU World Championships, after the Ironman World Championships in Kona, with the dark days of winter beckoning, we sit down and start to dream a little about next year, don’t we? Can I break 30 minutes for the swim? Maybe get under 40 minutes for the run split? Qualify for the worlds (gotta do it next year, Chicago!) or maybe that first Ironman… qualify for Kona? Why not!? Dreams and aspirations are high; we plan out the sessions, the improvements, the progressions… Reality takes a little bit of a back seat for a moment in time as we dare to dream that little bit.

But then that reality hits back at us and gives us a tiny little nip on the bum… it’s what makes us honest! So what drives us on? For many of us, it’s thinking about the ‘big’ race, the one that we’re aiming for above all others; how well we’re going to do… or not. Perhaps there’s another (better?) way of looking for that motivation in the dark winter days. Perhaps we should focus not on the race itself, but rather on the imaginary movie that we’re going to take of the race that we’re competing in. And when we look back at that imaginary movie, how are we going to feel about what we see there? Did we do everything that we should have done? Did we, maybe, not quite put all the effort in when we should have? What was present? What was missing? Are we proud of what we see, or are we disappointed?

And while we’re in the realms of self-examination, it’s also time to examine the cliches by which most of us consciously or unconsciously go about our training lives and check whether they’re true or not, and whether they help our training or hinder it.

“It’s the one you think you can’t do that does you good.” True or false? Maybe a bit of both, because there is that lovely element of satisfaction when completing the next repetition in the time that your coach wanted and you weren’t too sure that you could do it. The other side, of course, is that you mustn’t push yourself past that point where you may actually do yourself long-term physical damage by attempting something that you haven’t physically prepared for.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Or sometimes, there needs to be an appreciation that if the going gets too tough, too demanding, too much of a step up, that the smart tough guy or girl analyses and realises that they’re not quite ready for this particular toughness, but they will be soon with the appropriate small steps up in training over time.

“If not you, who? If not now, when?” This one I have to agree with 100 per cent. All the planning, all the written down schedules, all the talking about how good you’re going to be is useless without actually doing it! No excuses, no putting off; start now. Not next week, not when, “I’ll be ready to start soon.” Wrong! Do it now.

“No gain without pain.” Very similar to the above; sure, you’re going to struggle and hurt and then some, and certainly feel some physical pain when you’re working hard. But be aware that you mustn’t push past limits that you haven’t built up to, or there certainly won’t be any gain.

“I envy you.” What do you envy that particular athlete for? This one goes along with, “It’s not fair!” and “If only.” If only I had a better bike, it’s not fair that I can’t afford private swimming coaching, if only my parents were rich, it’s not fair that I have to work full time. Well, life is full of ‘if onlys’ and ‘not fairs’. The guys who make are the ones who realise that and decide they’re going to train that little bit harder, that little bit smarter and make it anyway.

That wonderful athlete Dave Bedford who rewrote the record books for 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres back in the ’70s said that if ever the temptation to try to be a world-class athlete comes into your mind, throw it out immediately! It’s only when that idea comes back a second, a third and then finally that fourth time that you should go for it. For the great athletes and the would-be great athletes, it’s an essential part of their being. You have to ask yourself, “Is it for me?”

Steve Trew: Coach and commentator

Steve keeps asking himself whether it’s for him or not? He’s just not sure what ‘it’ actually is. Steve is an advisory coach for Speedo, he can be contacted for all things triathlon at trew@personalbest.demon.co.uk.