BY COACH BILL MARTIN
About 7-8 years ago I was on a roll. I had been in the sport of triathlon for a few years and was starting to realize my potential as an athlete. When I started triathlon I never expected to win anything, but I had been training hard and results were starting to show. I was faster than I’d ever been or ever expected to be, and podium finishes at races were becoming a regular occurrence. Things were going well, so I decided to step it up to the next level. To me at the time, that meant pushing as hard as possible, as often as possible.
I didn’t consider recovery to be of much importance. I was young and not worried about losing steam. And I didn’t think much about whether my training schedule was sustainable with everything else I had going on in my life. I did follow much of my coach’s training plan, but I also took liberties of tacking on lots of extra distance or intensity when I felt like it. I liked sexy workouts… workouts that sounded cool when I would tell my friends about them. On one occasion, I recall deciding on a whim that I wanted to see if I could ride 200 miles in a day, purely for bragging rights. I had done 125 before, but not recently at that point. Wisely, I shared my intentions with my coach ahead of time. He told me “physically, you could probably do it, but at what cost? What benefit will it serve? You’ll be on your back for a week or more afterwards. I’d rather you get a quality week in.” Foolishly, I attempted it anyway. I made it 187 miles, fell apart, and then didn’t have a quality workout for over a week. I was also bad at communicating with my coach and recording my workouts on a daily basis, so he didn’t always know when I was overdoing it so he didn’t have the information he needed to make adjustments to the plan. After a few years of this (coupled with poor nutrition), instead of stepping it up to the next level, what I got was stagnating results and adrenal fatigue that lasted years.
Around that time I was also starting to get into the coaching side of the sport. I was realizing that what my coach had been saying for a while about recovery and sustainability was actually true, and did indeed apply to me. I was realizing that I couldn’t look at my own training without bias as I could another athlete’s. I was realizing that training hard was only helpful if there was a method to it and if the body was able to positively respond to it. That would depend on how I was fueling my body and if I was allowing it to recover from my hard work. So after making those adjustments, what I started to see was an improvement in performance that I hadn’t seen for the previous few years. Once things started going up again, I did end up meeting my goal of earning an elite card, but much later than I probably could have if I had understood these things sooner.
So that’s my personal story on the importance of a sustainable training plan for long term improvement in performance. Unfortunately, my story doesn’t stand alone, and many others find themselves in similar situations and wind up burnt out, injured and/or over trained. You might wonder, “How much is the right amount of hard work to put in and how much recovery is needed to see improvement?” What are the best types of workouts to do? The answer is that it’s different for everyone, so I can’t offer a universally right answer to that. We all come from different athletic backgrounds, have different goals, have different strengths and weaknesses, and have different stressors outside of our workouts that affect us. Whatever you and your coach come up with, it’s important that your training plan is sustainable over the long term if your goal is long term improvement in your sport.