Start planning and acting like a pro today and you’ll be outstanding, says Steve Trew

Illustration (c) Peter Greenwood

Illustration (c) Peter Greenwood

Triathlon really is a funny old game. Some triathletes come into the sport from one of the three contributing disciplines, others seemingly from nowhere. But why do some triathletes, whatever their background, never really progress to the standard that they should, while others just improve and improve?

Well, to start with, having a modicum of natural ability helps athletes be successful, as does a good genetic inheritance – in other words, choose your parents well! However, while these two attributes are big advantages, they are not enough. Many top sportspeople think that around 20 per cent of their success is due to genetic inheritance or natural ability, and the remaining 80 per cent down to pure hard work.

Some top juniors make brilliant seniors. Some don’t. Some supposedly ordinary junior athletes become senior world champions. There is no magic formula, but those who do succeed, who get better and better over the years, do have something special. And the special thing is the way they approach their training, and perhaps even more importantly, the way they approach their thinking.

Top triathletes take control of their training and racing. If a race hasn’t gone well, they look at why. There are excuses like “goggles came loose”, “wore the wrong shoes” or “gears weren’t working properly” from perpetually poor performers. Top triathletes say nothing. It happened. Maybe they didn’t prepare properly, but it isn’t used as an excuse. Top triathletes are accountable to themselves. Top triathletes take responsibility for any poor results.

No bad races

There are no bad races, only learning races. Something’s gone wrong, get over it, examine why and do something about it. You died a death on the run. Why? Was your training insufficient, or inappropriate? You couldn’t attack the hills on the bike. Why? You swam all over the place. Why? Find out what’s wrong and do something about it – now! If you have a poor race, don’t let it demoralise you – use the lesson to improve.

You become an athlete like the athletes who’re around you most of the time, a product of your environment. You will conform and act like those around you. If they’re committed to training hard and never making excuses, you will be too. But the reverse is true as well. If everyone has excuses, or they frequently don’t turn up for training, then that negativity can become the norm for you. And if that’s happening? Change, and change now!

The six Ps: P*** Poor Preparation Provides Pathetic Performance. Or as the old cliché states, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”. The top guys know where they want to be in five, six, 10 years time. That doesn’t mean to say they’re not bothered about next season or next week – of course they are. But importantly, they see the long term as well as immediate fulfilment. If that swimming stroke really isn’t good enough, immediate gains will be sacrificed for the longer term of getting it right, even if it means going back to basics.

Act now

Just do it! Preparation and planning are great, but they’re like New Year resolutions – they don’t mean anything unless you follow through. Don’t wait until 1 January, or next season – put the plan into action and do it now. Immediately. Today!

Ordinary, good, excellent. Do they mean what they say or does everybody want to be good, so good becomes the new ordinary? We move up a notch, and excellent becomes merely good. It’s a tough life! You don’t win gold medals without being extraordinary, without being outstanding. If you want it enough, it will happen. It’s all about making that commitment and then carrying it out.

But one word of caution: don’t expect to be perfect immediately. It takes all of the above to make it come true. Pay your dues. Or, as my dad used to say, “Get your knees brown!” You have to work damn hard to get anything worthwhile. Kids want things instantly, but as you grow up you realise that life isn’t like that! Outstanding results come from outstanding training efforts.

A hard interval set in the pool, on the bike or pounding the pavement is tough, we know that. But the elites, the top guys, those who make it – you know what they do? They read the session, they plan how to get through it, and then they actually do it. And that’s because they know that’s what will separate them from the merely excellent athletes. We all know those guys who miss a rep or avoid hard sessions. Don’t be like them. Choose to be outstanding. Go out and carpe that diem, guys. Be outstanding.

– Steve is an advisory coach for Speedo and can be reached for all things tri at trew@personalbest.demon.co.uk.