Learn the secrets of consistent performance from triathlon legends including Mark Allen, Lisa Norden and Cat Morrison, in this sneak preview from the new issue of Triathlon Plus magazine.
The top performers in triathlon may not win every race they enter, but they’re always in the mix, giving themselves a chance of taking the world’s top prizes. If you want to be as consistent as this, you need to change the way you think, train, plan eat and recover. In this preview from the new issue of Triathlon Plus, we’ll be looking at how to train more consistently.
The foundation of race success is training. First and foremost, you have to make sure you’re training smart – and that means having the right attitude from the outset. If you want to fulfil your potential, you’re not going to do it in a short space of time. Once you realise this, you can enjoy the sport for what it is and reap the rewards down the line.
“If you don’t enjoy training, there’s no point doing it,” says Triathlon Plus coaching editor Phil Mosley. “For an age-grouper or amateur, you’re better off not being too full-on and enjoying the sport for five years than being extreme with your training and only lasting two before you burn out. It takes years to improve, and you’ll be a better athlete after four years of having fun than two years of being quite extreme.”
So how do you ‘train smart’? In practice this means getting the volume and intensity of your training just right, planning well and sticking to your plan.
Most elite triathletes will tell you that the secret to achieving consistent race performances is to train consistently. That means different things to different athletes, but it usually boils down to two things: firstly, steering clear of the temptation to cram in extra sessions in a frenzied bid to top up your fitness; and secondly, repeating the same sessions week in, week out at an intensity that doesn’t push your body to the brink of collapse.
Sweden’s Lisa Norden has been one of the most consistent Olympic-distance performers in 2010. she achieved top five finishes in four out of the six Dextro Energy ITU World championship Series (WCS) races she entered this year, including a win in Hamburg and second in Kitzbuhel. These results earned her a bronze – her first Olympic-distance World Championship medal.
She’s acutely aware that it’s been a “consistent base of training” that has been the secret to her success. “I like to hve a good routine to my training: getting up at a certain time, doing certain sessions, and so on,” she says. “But I also need the challenge. it’s finding that balance between having a steady routine that works for you and small changes that keep things interesting.”
Another athlete whose race results show long-term success is ITU World Duathlon Champion and Ironman Hawaii contender Catriona Morrison. The fast-improving Scot rarely has a bad race, and over recent years has become one of the most feared competitors on the circuit.
“The secret to my consistent performances is consistency itself,” she says. “People don’t see being consistent as a goal. They think if they train well for two or three weeks here and there they’re going to get a good performance out of it. In fact, the trick is to maintain a reasonable degree of fitness the entire year round, and then be able to fine-tune for races.”
Get with the programme
Before you can train well week in, week out, you have to get yourself a solid training plan. When it comes to sustained success, the value of having a good training plan – ideally one you’ve formulated with a coach – cannot be overstated.
“For consistency, periodising your training is very important,” says Mosley. “By that I mean breaking your training up into blocks, with a different focus in each block. Each three-month block of training is different, which stops it getting boring, as well as being physiologically advantageous.”
One man who used periodisation to incredible effect is Ironman legend Mark Allen. It was this training method that helped him win six Ironman World Championship titles between 1989 and 1995. “I would start training on January 1st, with a lot of aerobic training,” says Allen. “Basically, you’re out there focusing more on having good technical form in your swim, bike and run and sustaining that good form throughout an entire workout. That’s really hard in the early part of the year, because you’re not in good shape. You don’t have the endurance, so you fatigue quicker, which means right away, if you have bad form it’s going to show up. At the beginning of the year, if you’re focusing on having good mechanics, it takes your mind off the idea of having to go hard.”
After three to four months of base aerobic work, Allen would then start adding speed work, then in the middle of summer – after his first main race – he’d cut back on volume but retain sped work. “The overall package of stress I was putting my body through in the middle of summer was no bigger than it was earlier in the year. usually by early August it was time to refocus on Ironman, so I’d cut all the speed work for a month or so and go back to more base miles, then go back to speed work in the month leading up to my final race of the season, which for me was always Hawaii.”
Allen describes it as having “two seasons that mirror each other”. Interestingly, he also believes that once a training plan works, it can be used year after year. “If you have a pretty smart training plan, there won’t be a big variety from year to year. From 1989 to 1995, the years that I won Ironman, I basically did the same training each year, but I was getting better, because my body was absorbing the workout. I only added one thing half way through, and that was strength training. You don’t have to have big variations in your training from year to year to keep improving.”
Words: Matt Anniss
You can read the rest of Mark Allen’s advice, plus how to be consistent in your recovery, mental approach and nutrition, in the full article, out now.