Coach Tip Tuesday is here to close out the month of November!
It’s that time of the year! The most wonderful time of the year! You may think I’m talking about the Holiday Season (and you would be partially right), but in the context of this post, I’m talking about Maintenance Phase, aka Dreaming Season.
Yes, indeed, it’s the time of year when athletes start thinking about what they will seek to achieve in the new year and the next season. The question that then follows is, “How will I achieve that? What is the best way for me to get where I want to go?”
During this time of year, I have many conversations with many different athletes about this very question. They want to know what the best training plan is to get them where they want to go. And while each person I talk to is a unique individual, there is some prevailing, universal advice that I give them that I’d like to share with all of you this week:
The best training plan is relative, because ultimately, the best training plan is the one that you can stick to. This means that what worked for your pal who did the same race that you want to do may very well not be what works best for you.
Ultimately, a training plan is essentially a written-out manifestation of a habit. And for a habit to be successful, it must have three qualities:
The habit must have an impact.
You possess the skill and the ability to do the habit.
The habit is a behavior you actually want to do.
The third quality is arguably the most important quality of the three, though all of them are necessary for a habit to be successful. If you find yourself saying “I should do this or that,” the habit you are trying to implement (read: the changes you are trying to implement) will likely come with a lot of resistance and will have a lower probability of success.
Thus, the training plan that your friend follows may very well not be the best one for you, simply because you cannot (or will not) stick to it. And if you can’t stick to the training plan in question, then you won’t be able to reap the benefit of what the plan was originally written to achieve.
Being honest with yourself about what you can truly stick to is critical here. Don’t fall into the common trap of being overly ambitious; that has a solid chance of making you feel quite poorly when you come to the realization that you can’t maintain what you thought you could. Being overly ambitious about what they can do is probably one of the more common reasons that athletes struggle to stick to a training plan.
Another one of the major reasons that athletes have trouble sticking to a particular training plan is the amount of time it takes to truly see if it’s working. On a cellular level, the soonest an athlete can expect to see results from a particular workout is ten days after the workout takes place. Extrapolating that across an entire training plan, it takes a minimum of 12 weeks to see if the training plan as a whole is effective for a given athlete. In a world where we get impatient if a website takes longer than 3/5 of a second to load, waiting 12 weeks to see if something we’re doing is effective can sound like a really big (if not impossible) task.
There are many roads to Rome, but you’ll only get to Rome if you don’t constantly veer off course. This is a metaphor for my original point from earlier: that the best training plan is the one you can stick to. If you don’t give the training plan a solid try (i.e. stick to the same training plan for at least 12 weeks), then your probability of success will be reduced. Patience is a critical quality to deploy; what you will be able to accomplish tomorrow is - in part - influenced by the restraint you show today. The only way you’ll realistically make it through the 12-week “testing” window to see if a plan is working for you is if the plan is designed in such a way that it is (relatively) easy for you to stick to.
In 2021, I coached five different athletes to IRONMAN Lake Placid. These five people were all ultimately targeting the same race, but the way they prepared for that race was unique to each of them. I customized their training around their personal abilities, personal schedules, and personal goals for that race. As a result, while each of them arrived in Lake Placid properly prepared to take on the race, how they arrived there was different. They each took the path to Lake Placid that was best for them.
Via the Internet and social media, we have more access than ever before to see what other athletes were doing. While this can potentially be a positive thing, many times, this access can negatively influence our own perception of what we’re doing. It can invite the Comparison Monster for a long-term stay and as a result, it can cause us to question the validity of the training plan we’re following.
If you start to question what you’re doing, ask yourself the following questions:
“Am I able to be consistent with the training plan I am following?”
“Have I given it enough time to determine if this training plan is actually working for me?”
“Do I have the exact same life circumstances as the person who I am comparing myself to?”
“If I tried to change what I’m doing, would the changes actually be sustainable for me?”
Bear all of this in mind as you contemplate what the coming year will bring for you goal-wise and make your choices about what path you’ll take to accomplish your goals. Above all, remember to tell yourself that you are following the best training plan for you if you’re able to stick to it. It’s as simple and as hard as that.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.