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Sometimes Success Takes a While

I recently wrote a memo to my privately coached athletes about the importance of consistency, and I soon realized this is a topic we all need to hear more about.

Most of the improvement seen in endurance sport comes from consistent training over a long period of time. That's not revolutionary news, we all know this, but what is easy to forget is that consistent training also means something else: consistent fatigue. Fatigue and fitness go hand-in-hand, as fatigue is a by-product of hard work. And hard work, after a period of recovery, results in higher levels of fitness. The key is to get the balance right where an athlete is able to recover from hard workouts so that they see an improvement in fitness, but not spend so much time resting that their fitness drops.

There are three main variables a coach modulates to accomplish this goal of increasing fitness while balancing fatigue. These are intensity, duration, and frequency. The goal is to find a balance of those three things that can be periodized throughout the year to allow for a continual build up to an "A" race.

When an athlete is consistently training, there is BOUND to be some consistent fatigue. That's normal, that's expected, and that's what we want. It would be heavily suspect if an athlete woke up every single morning feeling fresh as a daisy and ready to set a PR (personal record) performance in their workouts. That's not how the process works. No day or workout is going to be the same. Most days should feel "ok," some days may feel terrible, and very rarely you may randomly feel REALLY good. Don't let how you feel in the moment play with your mind too much.

Don't get me wrong, it's important to take note of how you feel—that's why there is a "post-activity" comments box and daily metrics in Training Peaks. You should feel comfortable talking to your coach and relaying information to him or her about how a workout felt. As a coach, I want to know how an athlete feels. I want to know, but that doesn't mean I want someone to bail on a workout because they don't feel 100%. Go ahead and get the work done, make a note that you felt like a dead fish flopping around in the pool, then get along with your day. When I look at an athlete’s comments, I’ll review them, consider them, and probably have them carry on as normal. If I start to see a pattern of behavior or fatigue drawn out over a few days or weeks, then it's time to make adjustments. One day means nothing. It's only a day.

When I was racing pro, I usually swam about 4-5 days a week. My personal rule of thumb at that time was that if I felt "pretty good" in the water at least ONCE every 7-10 days, then I was doing fine. That means that feeling "good" around 10-20% of the time was enough to reassure me I was on the right track with my training. Most of the time I didn't feel all that great, often I was a front row passenger on the struggle bus. But then occasionally, I'd have a day that felt good and I loved every minute of it. If I went more than two weeks where I felt pretty bad every day, then I knew I was maybe a bit overstretched and needed a little extra rest.

If you’ve been consistent with your training so far in 2018, then that means you are 3-5 weeks into training and fatigue is starting to accumulate. The volume and intensity is going up and most athletes are still weeks or months away from their first event of the year. Stay the course. It's not necessarily going to get easier, but you are going to get faster.


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