When you start any new sport, personal improvement goes hand in hand with swallowing some costly mistakes
More than a decade ago, when I first started training for triathlons, I was just like most of you. I knew nothing about sports or an active lifestyle.
Studies always came first for me and I often felt extra-curricular activities would distract me from getting good grades. Of course, this can’t be any further from the truth. Being physically fit and healthy also benefits those who want mental and emotional well-being.
Needless to say, I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. I made a few mistakes here and there but luckily, I learned from those errors. Throughout my career as a coach, I’ve always wanted to help aspiring athletes avoid the same mistakes I made and I want them to emulate my successes.
That said, here are a few blunders I’ve had over the past few years:
Mistake 1: The volume trap
Early in my career, I made the costly mistake of falling into the volume trap. I got into running because I thought it would be impossible for me to run a marathon; I wanted to prove myself wrong. Being the motivated and competitive person I am, I followed a generic training plan to the letter. After completing my first marathon, I wanted to challenge myself even more. I trained for an ultramarathon and conquered it as well. After a year or so, I was starting to question what I’d been doing. Is there more to this sport than running longer and longer? The answer of course is yes. But we have to step out of our comfort zone to do so.
Tip: Don’t look at volume as the only metric during training. Integrate things such as heart rate and pace/power into the equation. In doing so, you’ll see whether you’re becoming more efficient and if you can bump up the intensity a little more. More volume isn’t always better.
Mistake 2: Neglecting quality
Quality is something I didn’t pay much attention to when I was just a newbie. When we look at most training programs, everything is defined in terms of hours or distance. This is understandable since it’s something that’s easy to absorb and follow. However, oftentimes, people are led to assume that more is naturally better. Running a little bit more than last week or “going the extra” mile is a sign of dedication and hard work. This might not always be the case.
Tip: It’s completely fine to keep volume steady while preparing for a particular event. You don’t always have to feel obliged to go longer especially if you are working on other things such as running with better form or running incrementally faster. In fact, I advocate getting a lactate test to help establish the right zones/intensities in training. By having proper data to guide you, you can have a better understanding of your body and what it actually needs. A lot of times, more volume is not the answer.
Mistake 3: Underestimating race nutrition
When I was preparing for my first Ironman, I didn’t take race nutrition seriously. During long rides and runs, I only took what was available and convenient. I found this to be very costly as I was unable to translate the fitness I built into actual race performance.
I felt strong til the early part of the marathon. After 10K or so, things started to go downhill. I basically ran out of gas and found it extremely difficult to recover. Later on in my career I realized how big of a difference proper nutrition makes. You can train all you want but if you don’t fuel yourself properly, your performance will suffer.
Tip: Find what works for you. Don’t copy what other people are doing just because it’s effective for them. Most of the time you have to do a lot of trial and error. To skirt this, consider getting metabolic testing, as this can help you determine your calorie requirements during a race with excellent accuracy.
Mistake 4: Neglecting strength
When I got into multisport events, I always thought that lighter was better. I wanted to be as light as possible because I believed that in doing so, I would be faster. Naturally, I steered away from doing any sort of resistance training because I thought that this would only make me bulky and heavy.
Boy was I wrong!
When I was still a newbie, I had a few nagging injuries that never seemed to go away. I would rest but they always appeared to come back. It was only after a couple of seasons that I realized that I had muscular imbalances that needed to be addressed. The tightness I felt and the subsequent injuries I dealt with was because my body wasn’t prepared for the load I was giving it. I needed to make my body stronger. The best way to do that is to have a proper strength and conditioning routine to supplement cardio.
Tip: Don’t hit the gym like a bodybuilder. Instead, look at proper mobility and strength. The goal of weight training for our sport is to make sure any muscular weaknesses are taken care of. Muscles such as the glutes, vastus medialis, and calves are a few common areas of concern.
Mistake 5: Post-workout nutrition is key
As mentioned, I would look at weight as the enemy. I always wanted to be as light as possible and this led me to believe that I needed to cut back on calories. The problem is, I found it extremely difficult to eat clean during meals. The solution I came up with was to skip post-workout snacks.
I thought to myself, “Why would I waste calories here when I could eat something yummier during lunch?”
This, without me even realizing, was rather costly in terms of recovery. I didn’t know I was actually sabotaging my gains by not taking anything after workouts. Yes, I got to enjoy my lunch or dinner but I wasn’t able to maximize my workout the best way possible.
Tip: A post-workout meal doesn’t have to be complicated. Your body just needs a little bit of carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen, some protein to help rebuild muscles, and vitamins and minerals to aid metabolic processes. Personally, I eat a banana or two and chug a protein shake with some barley.
Mistake 6: Not finding the right balance
Admittedly, I started out a little too overzealous with triathlons and the whole multisport lifestyle. Naturally driven and dedicated, I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder and needed to prove to myself that I belonged in this sport. As a result, I dedicated all my time and effort to being a great athlete. In fact, I did a little too much such that my personal life started to suffer.
I missed a lot of family gatherings, avoided bonding with friends, and even lost touch with those who really mattered to me. Luckily, I realized this eventually and gradually found ways to change things. Now that I’m a father and husband, this has become even more important. Now, I’m able to prioritize my loved ones, and the things important to me, while still enjoying this sport. The answer lies in training smart and methodically.
Tip: Try and look at training time in terms of return on investment. I always ask myself whether a workout is worth the time I spend on it. For example, if a quality two-hour ride can replace a three-hour ride (filled with junk miles), I’d rather do the former. If I can achieve similar results even if I train significantly less, I would rather do that. Yes, it still involves a lot of sacrifice in terms of effort and discipline but remember, time is the only thing you can neither replace or multiply. Use it wisely by training smarter and more scientifically.