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Triathlete Blog

B is for Basics

B is for the basics.

If I could give one piece of advice to endurance athletes, regardless of age, ability or goals, it would be this:

Do the basics consistently well.

Having participated in multisport for almost 20 years, I have seen much change. The amount of technology, information and gadgetry available is impressive. Almost overwhelming. Yet something hasn’t changed – what allows us to be good endurance athletes in the first place: the basics.

What are the basics?

Consistency. Your most potent factor in training is not volume or intensity. It’s consistency. Your ability to do work day after day is at the heart of building robust fitness and durability.  Stringing together week after week of consistent training is what the best athletes are doing better than you. Not to say they don’t experience obstacles along the way. But they manage their details really, really well to protect their consistency. They know that consistency is everything. To allow for this – they plan out their week and season in a way that’s realistic and repeatable.  A general rule to follow when navigating your daily training plan: don’t do anything today that you can’t repeat tomorrow. This isn’t to say that you never work hard or stretch beyond yourself. But in training, we never empty the tank or do something to compromise our consistency.

The biggest threats to consistency? Illness and injury. Manage stress (training stress, life stress, poor eating stress, work stress) the best you can so you do not suppress immune function. Err on the conservative side when it comes to training so you do not create an injury. If you can be more consistent with you training but it means going easier – go easier. Over time, easier adds up to more.  More consistency, more work, more fitness.

Recoverability. I have no idea if it’s an actual word but it’s a concept the best athletes work to improve, constantly. Your recoverability determines how much fitness you gain. Work + rest = fitness. Good athletes focus on doing work. Great athletes focus more on learning how to recover appropriately to gain fitness from it. Very few athletes understand the work/rest ratio that yields to their best fitness. Often these athletes are chasing numbers or chasing the wrong things. The best athletes chase performance.  To achieve your best performance, you need to be the master of recovery. How do you improve your recoverability? By far, the two most powerful variables are nutrition and sleep.

Sleep is a no brainer. We all know our threshold of how little sleep we can get and still function. Parents, you know this well! But most adults, especially those trying to be “high performing” athletes, tend to aim for 7 to 8 hours, nightly. Look for patterns over time and you will find what works for you. Avoid situations where you find yourself cutting sleep short to get up early for a workout. You’re better off sleeping in and cutting the workout short or making the workout easier. Limited sleep has been shown to put you at higher risk of injury and illness. Again, both threaten consistency.

And nutrition? If I could just feed every endurance athlete a piece of bread, give them a hug and tell them it’s going to be ok…The point is that nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated. The biggest gains most age groupers can make it from improvements in their understanding of and implementation of —- HOW TO EAT.  Now, I’m not a dietician – just a real person, in the real world with real life demands.  My suggestion is to keep it simple because simple is sustainable.  Three simple rules: eat well, eat often, eat 3 food groups at every meal with one being a source of carbohydrate and the other being protein. Endurance athletes are notorious for long stretches of time where they haven’t eaten, not eating before workouts, not having a fuel/hydration plan they execute during workouts, not eating enough (time wise or quantity wise) after workouts. Learning to fuel yourself before, during and after workouts is imperative for consistency.

Simplicity.  Having coached athletes for the past 10 years, one of the biggest mistakes I see is that too many are overcomplicating, over-analyzing and overdoing the sport before they’ve even mastered the basics of training. They’re getting the latest greatest gadgets, obsessing about equipment and downloading tons of data without putting in the foundation required for all of that stuff to matter.

Whether you’re beginner or advanced, pro or amateur, here’s what matters: swim, bike and run as much as you can without breaking down and, may I add, while still enjoying yourself. Do this for long periods of time, uninterrupted. How you do that – put yourself in a position to succeed day after day. Eat well, sleep well, stay healthy and motivated. When you find yourself starting to stumble, thinking too far ahead, getting off track – go back to the basics.

It’s really quite simple, isn’t it?  But as most wise coaches and athletes know – simple is never easy. Our natural tendency is to gravitate towards the complexity. Why? We doubt that something could be so easy. We thrive on the challenge, the difficulty. The things that make for good, sexy stories. We want to feel like we’re really doing something – something hard, something special. No one wants to read the interview where the champion says:

I swam, biked and ran every day, consistently, for 7 years.

We wait for the real recipe.  Surely it HAS to be more complicated than that. A secret workout? A special set they did? A magic number of miles? Come on, a certain supplement?

Here’s the secret: sometimes simple is hard. Because it’s boring!  The easy rides. The form work. In cold weather, in rain, in heat.  When you want to and, more importantly, when you don’t want to.  The grind, day after day.  We want to go out and smash ourselves to feel like we’ve accomplished something. The wise athlete knows that on the easy days, the boring days you are accomplishing quite a bit. Essentially, the easy, boring days are the glue that holds your fitness together. Those days are critical for maintaining your consistency.

This month, Multisport Mastery athletes have been challenged to commit to “no zeroes” in their training. It’s an idea I borrowed from my own coach, Matthew Rose. The purpose is to demonstrate how powerful something as basic as consistency can impact their fitness, attitude and motivation. And wouldn’t you know – it’s working. They’re chasing green boxes on their calendar like crazy. Athletes I’ve coached for years are finally going green. They’re reminding themselves, daily, to do the basics consistently well.

I challenge you to do the same.  Stop worrying or thinking about the stuff that will give you marginal gains and start focusing on what will help you make significant, long-lasting improvements.  Execute your daily training, eating, sleeping – these are the things that create the most powerful impact on your fitness.  Go back to the basics.