Squad training in Gran Canaria. Photo: Rob Holden Photography
One of the predicaments with our sport being such a time consuming hobby is in how we ‘fit in’ those other aspects of life – school, family, friends and work – that make us who we are.
Since starting our age group coaching it has been one of those pleasant synergies we come across, as balance, and getting it right, is crucial to all levels of performance. Yet over the last six months I’ve heard many of our ‘agers’ express their envy of our pros who have the freedom to just train and do nothing else. While it no doubt helps, it may not always be the performance advantage you think it is.
I have documented previously how Nicola Spirig going back to university after the Beijing Olympics was crucial in her subsequent success in chasing London gold. Bob Babbitt also raised the issue with the resurgent Daniela Ryf earlier in the season. Dani followed Nicola’s lead in returning to school and it’s helped her enormously in getting back to her best.
When dealing with people with high achieving mentalities, a sole focus on physical training with no mental stimuli can be anything but helpful. Inquisitive minds don’t sit idle, they turn their attention to thinking about every aspect of their sport. Often to an unhelpful degree.
Chrissie Wellington’s recent article on relaxation and rest made me smile as it showed great maturity embracing a performance concept that went totally against her natural disposition. Indeed, Chrissie is a great example of someone who thrived when able to dedicate her considerable intellect away from triathlon for a portion of the day. During her early TeamTBB days, she would get infuriated at the mixture of Singaporean English and my own horrible spelling on the team’s website and went to work fixing it. As we were to find out, Chrissie does nothing in halves and ended up rewriting large parts of the entire thing.
That she emerged on the scene and consolidated herself as a potential great during this time is not entirely coincidence.
A small time later another developing pro with a similarly tenacious attitude joined our squad. The Honey Badger (Mary Beth Ellis) would drive herself so hard in training and out that she was an obvious candidate for part-time work, going on to do a fabulous job taking charge of our internet content and postings. At the same time she went on a tearaway winning streak eventually racking up 8 Ironman victories.
Now of course there are other factors to consider in each individual’s improvement, but the point I’d make is that four of the best female athletes I’ve ever seen all made significant gains after taking on external work or study, and spending a minimum of 4-hours a day doing something other than triathlon.
So while most age-groupers all work significantly longer than 4-hours a day, day-dreaming about the massively improved times you’d make on the ‘no work’ alternative isn’t always totally constructive or accurate. Your profession and having a balanced work and family life may be enhancing your racing more than you think.