Posted On:
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: The Tortoise Always Wins

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A close-up photo of a Galápagos Tortoise.  The camera is zoomed pretty far in on the tortoise’s head/face, which is tilted to the left.  Honestly, the tortoise almost looks like it’s saying to the photographer, “Yeah.  I’m always going to win.  Take that.” :D

It’s time for Coach Tip Tuesday.  Or, as it could be called this week: Tortoise Tuesday.

Almost everyone reading this is probably familiar with the story of The Tortoise and The Hare:

“There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, Slow and Steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch.

Hare ran down the road for a while and then paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, "How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?"

Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, "There is plenty of time to relax."

Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line.

The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up Hare.

Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line.

After that, Hare always reminded himself, “Don't brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!’”

I’ve read this story many times throughout my life, and heard it countless more.  In each telling, the tortoise ALWAYS wins the race.  ALWAYS.

We exist in a world where productivity - defined in this case as getting as much done as possible in as little time as possible - is celebrated and encouraged.  Slowing down and resting are things that are often thought of as “lazy,” “unproductive,” and “time wasters.” 

In endurance sports, I see this manifest often in athletes who want to achieve goals as quickly as possible. One of the questions I am asked most frequently when athletes are interviewing me to potentially hire me as their coach is, “How much time will I need to get ready for XYZ goal?” When they ask that question, they are not looking for me to say that it will take 2-3 years to accomplish their goal. They are often looking for the minimum possible time that it will take for them to reach their goal; truthfully, they only want to hire me for that minimum amount of time. While I don’t mind this, in my experience of having multiple people do this over the years, it’s often not the best way to approach goal setting, and therefore not the best process to attempt to follow to reach one’s goals.

Not all goals are created equal, so some goals may come easier.  Having a goal to continuously run for five minutes will likely take less time to achieve than achieving a goal of running a marathon will.  But other goals might be bigger goals that need a longer lead time, for any number of reasons:

It might be because athletes are time-limited in how much they can train, and that means that they will need to have a longer overall buildup to their goal. It might be because they need to get some other things in alignment (such as nutrition) in order to support their goals, and changes like that definitely don’t happen overnight. It might be because they are coming off of an injury, and a quick progression to the goal would be too risky. It might be because the athlete's tolerance to training necessitates a very slow progression.

No matter the reason, the truth of the matter is that some goals take a very long time to come to fruition, no matter how much the athlete might wish for that to be different.  

It is best to remember the story of The Tortoise and The Hare when setting goals. The most successful athletes - both at the age-group level and at the elite/professional level - are the athletes who commit themselves to the process. They chip away, day-in and day-out, knowing that a single workout doesn’t win a race or make a goal attainable. However, a series of workouts, mindfully executed and diligently planned, do make goals attainable and wins possible. This is most clearly seen in athletes who compete as part of the Olympic and Paralympic training cycles. It takes these athletes at least four YEARS to be able to have a shot at reaching their goal, and even being able to participate in the attempt doesn’t mean that they will achieve a goal of becoming an Olympic or Paralympic Champion.

When it comes to your goals, don’t stop.  Be relentless, yet slow and steady, just like the tortoise in this story.  The fractions caused by starting and stopping add up, and much like they did for the hare, they lead to disappointment and discontentment at the very least, and unrealized goals at the worst.

No matter where we are in our own personal journeys in endurance sports, we can all learn from this story.  The tortoise always wins.  ALWAYS.  So aim to adopt some tortoise-like qualities in your own life, and see if you don’t achieve more than you thought was possible.


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.

She can be reached at

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