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A book for Christmas

As we head into the festive season, the present buying options for the triathlete in ones life comes to the fore. I was recently asked what Triathlon book would I recommend? I wracked my brain and couldn't initially give an honest title that would be beneficial to the age grouper. For a coach, a concise publication by Dr John Hellemans is a very positive and practical guide to coaching principles of triathlon.

However for triathletes, that had me thinking. The only book in triathlon that I referred to, and still do at times, is a book that was published around 20 years ago. But it wasn't exactly a book on coaching. Instead a list of interviews with well known athletes back in the early 90s. I know because I had two copies, an English translation and the French original version. Why both? Well because I was rather upset that a set of interviews I granted to the then president of the European Triathlon Union and Vice President of the ITU appeared in it. Possibly to appease me, he sent me two signed copies.

The book is by Didier Lehenaff. You won't know him, as in an internal coup, he was removed from both positions 25 years ago when the ETU was doing a much better job for athletes than the ITU. As far back as 28 years ago he introduced heats and finals for the European Championship. Finals of not more than 25 or 30 for the safety of the athletes. The ETU prize purse was larger than the ITU, and the series much better organised. In hindsight I now understand why he and his organisation were removed quick smart - 'athlete first policies' was not a vote catcher then either!

What this book did was to lift the lid on what the mostly self coached athletes did on a weekly basis. How they thought through their training process. Why they did certain things. Champions such as Simon Lessing (multiple ITU World Champion), Karen Smyers (multiple ITU, and Ironman World Champion), Isabelle Mouthon (the best French female athlete of all time). All openly gave their inner thoughts on what made their triathlon success tick.

What was so different about this book to other books of today? It was a treasure trove of absolute useful productive applicable triathlon centric advice. There were few photos, and no analysis of champions of the specific individual disciplines. This was totally about triathlon. Even though Didier was a sports scientist himself, he had not been engulfed by so much information and over complicated theories.

When asked why he talked to me, and spent so much time with me during this period, his response was 'your athletes are young, no one in Europe has heard of any of them and yet now there is not a region in France or Europe that is not being dominated by your group'.

He didn't preach to me about what I should know, but was analytical of asking why we did things in all different areas of the sport. He was not condescending or judgemental at all, and he had been in the sport some 15 years when I meet him, and I'd been there 15 minutes. He was genuinely interested. It was possibly the only triathlon set of interrogations that I felt at ease in the company of a man that didn't want to pass on what he felt, but wanted to know what we are doing.

Actually Dr Hellermans impressed me the same way, which is why I decided to spend 6 months in his laboratory for coaching in Christchurch and also felt fully at ease. Both men wanted to test athletes, but both were totally agreeable when I said not this one, not that one, when it was suggested that testing this athlete would help, or this protocol may produce something beneficial. Indeed Dr John it did. Some of the training methods we tested and tweaked in Christchurch, I'm still using today. Similarly I still have data from Didier on two athletes of his that I trained at the time.

These men knew triathlon, they knew athletes, they both knew about performance. Their publications would likely now be out of print. In today's world of triathlon information, both sold for under $10, so what good would they be? Both are far superior to anything written today, that I can assure you. I did try to find my copies but alas like I'm sure we all find when we lend out a good book it never seems to be returned. I must have also bought 10 copies of 'Train Hard, Win Easy'! But you won't find one in my book case either, as they too have disappeared when loaned. That too could be a sign that this also is a positive Christmas read for the budding athlete. Again, you will be hard pressed to find it, as the new generation want to get rid of anything that has the mantra of hard work as its theme.

Have a happy family time and best wishes for good health during your festive season.

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