Goal-setting for the tri season, part 1: overcoming discouragement

Credit: Robert LaBerge/Allsport
I doubt that theres a person reading this whos not planning to go faster, place higher, and reach an unprecedented level in his or her triathlon performance this year.

Its only human nature to start thinking in these ways when the holidays are over and ones focus migrates back toward ones own wants and desires.

This happens every year, though, right? Nobody ever says, "This year Im going to sink to a new level, Im going to wallow in mediocrity." Unfortunately, there is often a gulf between your pre-season goals and your eventual athletic performances.

Today begins a series on how to avoid the setbacks that always seem to keep us from attaining our early-season goals.

There are four things that always seem to get us down: injury, illness, discouragement, and time constraints.


Today Im going to write about discouragement, and I dont mean moping around, or getting teary-eyed, or anything like that. I dont mean clinical depression, or things you need therapy or drugs for.

"Disappointment in oneself" is the culprit. Its what happens when you fall short of your goals. Its the falling-off-the-wagon that happens when you plan to do one set of things, and you end up looking back and finding out that you didnt come near accomplishing what youd intended.

I find with the athletes I coach that a good part of what I spend my time doing is re-creating the workout schedule to accommodate the workouts that have been missed. I expect to do that. Theres no sin in missing workouts. In fact, its a certainty, and though thats the case, athletes put themselves in no-win situations. Theyre afraid of doing too much of overtraining and so they dont do more than whats on the schedule. And yet its only a matter of time until workouts are missed. Therefore, athletes often execute their workouts at a level below that which is called for by their training schedules.

The trick is in how one deals with this scenario. Often, if an athlete finds that he or she is a chronic "underachiever" when comparing actual training levels against the workouts on the printed schedule, he or she gets discouraged. That often means further missed workouts, and that sets one on a downward spiral that will remain in place. The athlete then at some point screws up the wherewithal to take an affirmative step toward getting back on the wagon.

How much better would it be to know in advance what sorts of things are likely to happen, how human nature deals with setbacks, and how to plan for missed workouts? How much better to say: "Im going to plan my workout schedule so that theres room to move in either direction if I feel so inclined. I can do perhaps 25 percent more than the schedule permits, or I can do 25 percent less."

A scheme like this might mean that the mileage levels on ones schedule are decreased by 20 percent. In other words, if youd planned to average 10,000 meters swimming, 100 miles cycling and 25 miles running per week over a given period of time, perhaps lowering that to 8,000 meters/80 miles/20 miles would be appropriate. Then, if you want to do your 10,000/100/25 you can, but if you fall to 6,000/60/15 thats inside the parameters as well.

Training is like anything else. When you realize that everybody falls short then you know youre not alone. Dont get discouraged by hearing somebody elses boast of workout mileage. Almost certainly youre hearing about that persons best week, and thats because he or she, like you, feels embarrassed about disclosing the lower level of mileage actually achieved.

When youre not isolated when you realize that youre experiencing the same shortfalls and pitfalls that all your friends and competitors face you wont get discouraged, and you wont fall off the wagon.

Next: Dealing with time contraints and injury

JulieAnne personally coaches between 12 and 15 athletes per year over the Internet. She is also the founder of Slowtwitch Animal Activists. Her coaching program and more of her articles can be found at Slowtwitch.com.

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