I was recently talking with a good friend who is training for his first Ironman. His stories of long rides and brick sessions spilled from him with such bravado that I barely had time to take in everything he had planned.
He was lit with positive energy. But my experience with triathletes and their desire to talk up what they are doing forced me to probe a little more.
“How is the body holding up?” I asked when he gave me a moment to speak.
“Oh you know, just the usual niggles and fatigue, but nothing that’s stopping me from hitting my workouts,” he replied. “I would be happy with a bit more sleep, but sleep is overrated,” he said with a laugh. “My legs have been heavy and tired these past few weeks, but my volume is right up at the moment so it is to be expected.”
I took the opportunity to advise him to listen to his body. Recovery is a component that is so easily dismissed that it has almost become taboo to talk about it.
“My program gives me Monday mornings off, so I’m getting the rest I need,” he answered.
My phone rang three weeks later and on the other end was my very different-sounding friend. He had picked up a cold, and that sore leg of his had just been diagnosed as a stress fracture. The enthusiasm and positive energy was gone from his voice.
“I just don’t know how it happened,” he said. “I followed my program perfectly.”
And with that statement, he had both the question and his answer. In fact, most injuries triathletes get can be avoided.
In 20 years of triathlon racing I have never had an injury that could have been avoided. I often get asked how I have remained relatively injury-free.
I have followed three basic rules that have kept me in the game, season after season. Consider them when planning your season and building your program. As my mate found out, injuries and sickness can destroy a dream. Take control of your journey and own your training decisions.
1. Stay flexible. Training programs are key, and employing a coach can help you make adaptations, but being flexible is imperative. Everyone has different “away-from-sport stresses.” These impact you differently from week to week, so make sure you factor these into your training week. Communication with your coach (if you have one) is important, and being prepared to reschedule training sets or move sessions to a different date can save you big time in the long run. Don’t be fixated on routine.
2. Accept that you have your own best interests at heart. I can distinguish between whether I simply can’t be bothered or I am tired. We all have this mechanism. Having structured recovery sessions in your training program is important, but if you feel the need to take more, then take it. The guilt that many people carry in this decision does the most harm. Let it go. Ultimately you’re in charge of your triathlon journey, so treat your training decisions with authority and leadership.
3. Emphasize balance and biomechanics. I find a lot of balance in doing other less cardio-driven workouts that help me with body control and alignment. Learning where your body is tight, inflexible or less responsive is powerful. Yoga and gym work are exceptional training tools that give you strength, balance and personal body awareness that you just won’t find swimming, biking and running. There’s nothing more powerful than feeling like you have control over your body!