After crossing the finish line of a local sprint race last season, I was walking around congratulating fellow racers when one of them asked me about my race. I responded enthusiastically, “I was pleased to be able to race to my fitness.” Given the funny look I received, I clarified by explaining that I view the primary purpose of training as getting as fit and smart as possible, given real-life challenges such as family and work. My run preparation was weak and the time showed it, but that didn’t detract any from the effort I put forth and my feelings of satisfaction, pride and smiles. After all, that’s the main reason we race, right?
Having completed more than a hundred multisport races with finish-line scenes reminiscent of this one, I’ve unfortunately learned that many triathletes race for different reasons, and they often finish feeling disappointed and unsatisfied with their accomplishments.
Triathletes can do a better job of defining success. Goal-setting experts tell us we need to set “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). While this is generally excellent advice, most triathletes sadly choose to view these guidelines through the prism of outcome-based goals, instead of embracing the far more fulfilling process-oriented goals.
For example, when asked to list their top goals for an upcoming race, most triathletes will answer “finish in the top 10 in my age group,” “break 12 hours” or “average 20 mph on the bike.” Rarely do I hear “I want to meter out my energy optimally during the bike leg in order to have my best run, ” “I want to arrive early to the race site to avoid any anxiety,” or “I want to stay focused on a key element of my swim stroke.”
It is worth noting that many of these popular outcome-based goals can easily be compromised by race conditions such as heat and wind, poorly marked swim courses or the competition that day. Comparing your times from flat and fast 70.3 EagleMan to hot and hilly Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 is not likely to lead to feeling successful.
Defining success properly for yourself starts long before the gun goes off at your next race. Begin by establishing process goals for your training, such as:
- I will wake up 30 minutes earlier three days a week to do valuable core work.
- I’ll train with friends more often.
- I’ll avoid processed sweets on weekdays in order to help reach a more effective race weight.
Then, as you approach your next key race, make a realistic assessment of your fitness and race preparedness based upon the actual training you’ve achieved. Use recent time trials, practice races and previous race experience in order to craft a winning pacing strategy reflective of that fitness.
Stay in your own bubble and don’t let other racers distract you from your race plan. Unless you are competing for the overall win, age-group racing is essentially a really long solo time trial with the goal of completely exhausting your fitness at the finish line. If you do that, and execute your race plan with only a few minor hiccups along the way, then you will have had a very successful race. You may just be pleasantly surprised at the time on the clock and your age group placing as a result.
Scott Fliegelman is the owner and head coach of FastForward Sports (Fastforwardsports.net) in Boulder, Colo.