A little dreaming can help you match the times of star athletes, says Triathlon Plus and triradar.com contributor Steve Trew.

Illustration by Peter Greenwood

Dreaming of better peformance can help make it a reality

Haile Gebrselassie does a session of mile repeats in 4mins 40 secs; Paula Radcliffe does a similar session in 5:06. Not actually that fast, not actually that intimidating. Until you examine a little more closely. Haile and Paula do 26 repetitions of these miles with recovery of… nothing. Nothing at all. Which is a pretty silly way of saying that they’re both totally awesome marathon runners, and this is the pace of their respective world records.

So what? Well, I guess there are quite a lot of triathletes who can run a single mile in 4:40 or 5:06; so we have the speed, it’s just the endurance! Too simplistic? Of course, but everybody has to start somewhere. Yes, it’s cliché time: “Every great journey starts with a single step.”

If our starting point is, say, six minutes for a mile run, then in our dream world, if we were able to maintain that pace right through an Olympic distance, we’d come away with a 37:30 for the run discipline. Not too dusty, eh? Similarly, our 100m swim in 1min 30secs translates to a 22:30 for 1500m swim; and our one-mile bike explosion in 2mins 20secs brings us in with a very handy 58:20 for the 25 miles. Overall time for Olympic distance? 1:58:20 (plus transition times, of course), which might just make a sub-two-hour triathlon. A dream time, but there’s no reason why it can’t also become reality. A starting point is just that – a starting point. Sometimes it’s that inability to dream a little that holds us back. If you can’t dream guys, then how can you ever do it for real?

If you can run that single mile in six minutes, then how hard will it be to eventually carry on for a further 400m at that pace? And then another quarter mile? And then another… you get the picture? Wherever we are, whatever the current standard, all that is the starting point. It’s so difficult to see ourselves a couple of years ahead. And it’s also extremely difficult to picture where we were two years back: “Was I really that slow?!” But not too difficult to project just a couple of months – if I do this in training, and if I do that in training, then maybe I should be swimming XX for 400m.

And that’s how it goes, that’s how to make the dreams come true. Was Michael Phelps born as a sub-50-second 100m butterfly swimmer? I think most definitely not! It took years and years of training, and also those years of dreaming to make it all come true.

But what if – despite the dreaming and the working hard – those dreams still don’t come true? Well, maybe we can put it down to a couple of reasons. Maybe, it’s that silly old thing ‘age’ that’s slowing us down, and there’s nothing we can do about that – nothing at all. Sure, we can slow the impact of age (that’s exactly what we’re doing with all the training) but we can’t overcome it. Or maybe it’s as simple as just not training properly. Doing the same thing again and again in training and refusing to acknowledge that it’s just not working. All sport is full of stories of athletes who change coaches and then have immediate success. Maybe it’ll work for you. But remember that in the history of sport there are a large number of athletes who have never changed coaches and have achieved everything they set out to do; think Carl Lewis, think Michael Phelps.

So dreaming is important; sometimes it’s the dreaming that is the motivation to get out on those cold, unwelcoming days. Keeping the dream alive is the necessary thought. Watching the dream come closer is what makes it – for all of us – worthwhile. Dreaming of those 100m swim repetitions in 1min 30secs, gradually cutting down the rest interval in between, till one day, it happens. The dream has arrived and the reality is there. Dreams don’t take up too much time – turning them into reality certainly does.

But the important thing is that reality must start with that dream; maybe we call it ambition or drive or doggedness or toughing it out or any synonym that we fancy. It’s dreams that start us on the road; dream a little, guys – just dream a little.

This article was first published in Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe.

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