Coach Tip Tuesday: Train Now So You’ll Be Able to Train Later
It’s already time for another round of Coach Tip Tuesday!
This week’s coach tip revolves around the idea of patience. I’ve observed that this is one of the hardest skills for athletes to dial-in on.
How Much Time?
One of the most common questions I get from prospective athletes who are seeking to hire a coach is this, “How much time do I need to train for XYZ goal?”
This is often a challenging question for me to provide a definitive answer to, as there are so many factors that come into play when determining a timeline to a goal. Often, the answer I provide is not what the athlete wants to hear, but it is what they need to hear. The reason for this is that I often tell athletes that preparing for the goal(s) they’ve set will take longer than they were thinking or would like them to.
My brother Joe is an engineer. His brain is constantly seeking the most efficient pathway possible to solving a problem. Though a majority of us are not engineers, I think that each of us has some variation of the “engineer gene” in that we all would like to find the most efficient way to get to where we want to go. However, where I think many of us go astray is that we think that “most efficient pathway” and “least amount of time possible” are the same thing.
This leads me to the crux of this week’s coach tip: Sometimes the most efficient path is not the path that (at face value) takes the least amount of time. The most efficient path is actually the shortest path, but again, that doesn’t mean shortest duration.
The Slowest Path is the Shortest Path
You can ask many of the athletes that I have worked with or talked to over the years; often, my advice is to plan for longer than they would like to reach a goal that they’ve decided on. I’ve told many, many athletes that it will take years to reach their goal in the way that they really want to obtain it. I often tell them that we need to do specific work first, so that we can do the sexy, “real” work later on. And while all of this does contribute to successfully accomplishing the goal over the long-term, it is a path that requires patience, diligence, and honesty.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what athletes want to hear. They don’t want to hear that doing a certain type of training now is what will enable them to do the training they really want to do later on. They don’t want to hear that their body will need more time to safely reach their goal than their mind currently thinks it will.
Despite the fact that this isn’t what athletes need to hear, it’s what I tell them. My job isn’t to tell athletes what they want to hear; my job is to make my best assessment and recommendation possible to help them achieve their goals. This means that I must recommend the exact amount of training and the honest timeline that will keep them safe and injury-free. In essence, I tell them what they need to hear, even if it doesn’t make them happy at that moment. The ironic part is this: my being truthful with them will make them happier over time, just so long as they choose to embrace the truth that they’re being told.
The Quickest Path Doesn't Equal the Quickest Results
Now, can some goals be “reached” in the timelines that athletes want to reach them in? Yes, of course. But doing so often means that we are compromising somewhere to do that. It often means that the athlete will not be as prepared as they could have been with a longer lead-in. It also often means that they will not be as fast as they could be. And perhaps most significantly, there will have to be a more significant compromise in the athlete's life that isn't sport; a condensed timeline doesn't allow space for other things.
Since athletes are usually quite preoccupied with their pacing, this is an important compromise to note. It’s very important to be honest that the athlete may very well be choosing a shorter timeline to get to the goal over their speed on race day. As you know, I talk often about how saying yes also means saying no. So, in many cases, if an athlete says yes to a shorter timeline to a goal, they are also saying no to being able to reach their peak fitness and fastest pacing.
My experience has shown me that athletes might “understand” this, but they don’t actually understand this. And once they reach race day, they are sometimes stressed about their ability to execute the goal and/or they are often disappointed that they were not faster or that they didn’t feel better/stronger. Most, if it not all, of the elements of this dilemma can be avoided by being honest about preparation timelines.
If you have a goal that you want to achieve, you need to do the proper training now that will build you up and enable you to train well and with strength later on. This may very well mean that you need to disregard pacing for a bit. It may mean returning to fundamentals and basics for an extended period of time. It may look very different than what your peers and friends are doing. (For what it’s worth, in my observation, this is usually a good thing, as it means that you are following the path that is best for YOU, rather than following a path that is best for someone else.)
When I write training for athletes, I am looking at what is best for them to do on a given day, but then also considering how that single day fits into their entire week. On a more global scale, I am thinking about how each of those elements (daily workouts, and then weekly training) fit into their entire plan (which may be anywhere from 6-24 months) to help them get to where they want to go.
The Bottom Line
Training, when done properly, is not always glamorous. It is a series of wise and deliberate (and sometimes mundane) choices that collectively become glamorous by ultimately helping the athlete reach their goals.
Do the training today that will help you do your training tomorrow. Don’t get so focused on today that you lose sight of tomorrow, because tomorrow is what we’re actually after. Being honest with yourself about what you need to do (and how long you need to take to do it) will help you reach any and all goals you set for yourself with strength and confidence.
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.