Its not just about smashing a Personal Best (PB) every time you get in the water. You cannot always perform at your peak... its why we have periodisation. You will have good sessions & bad sessions. You are not training to perform a personal best in training. You are training to perform at your best come race day!
To be clear...
You will have good sessions & bad sessions!
Using my experience as a swimmer, I used to be comparatively rubbish in training. I am sure my old coaches will say I was just doing exactly what I was told (hmmm!). I know I used to swim at the back of the lane for drills, so I could do them correctly without someone tapping my toes. I also know that when it came to 'racing' in training or time trials I could NEVER match what I did in a race.
I can also remember another experience from a Triathlon training camp in Mallorca, many years ago, where I got dropped on EVERY climb. I got left for dead in just about every effort. Two weeks after the camp, all the athletes raced... I came 4th overall... the athletes on the camp were some way behind!
These are experiences I use in my coaching and during the F4L Training Camps in Mallorca now. Triathletes should enjoy their training camps, not be intimidated or overawed.
The good sessions are easy to handle mentally. You come away from the session thinking, "Whooppee, I feel great. Javier Gomez... who is he? Alastair Brownlee or Jan Frodeno... pffft. They got nothing on me!"
Coach warning: You can go too hard when you feel good. Take energy out of the bank for the next session. Over-reach just a bit to far... it was a good session though! When it says 75% or RPE 7/10 are you really doing that?
And then the next session you land back down to earth with a bump.
You have a crap swim, or you run slower than what you wanted, or you just do not have the legs on the bike ride. Well, as Sean Kelly* says, "If you don't have the legs... you don't have the legs!"
How do you handle it?
Every session you do is one in the bank. Good, bad, indifferent, feel like crap, feel sensational. They are all training sessions in the bank. So you bank it and move on.
You take the positives out of the session and move on.
What you shouldn't do, and a large number of Triathletes do... is be massively self critical. Or worse, have a go at someone else (insert the word, 'coach' here) because you haven't performed.
Critique yourself. Absolutely. Discuss it with your coach, goes without saying. But don't start saying, "I am crap" or "I am going to get creamed this season" based on one session... or one part of a session. That is silly. It immediately instills a 'negative mindset' which is very hard to get rid of.
Turn it into positives
So next time you have a bad session, write down 3 positives about it.
I guess you can have, 'I didn't drown' if necessary. Then think about why you felt it was crap.
Was it due to one part of the swim? What happened? Do you just not like that drill?
Was it your swim time for a test? Did you give it your best? Were you tired? Was it at the end of a session? How does that compare to a year ago?
Did you fall off your bike? (that was silly!) Why? Can you change anything to make it better?
Did you get pincered by two Ferraris? I guess only Max Verstappen can claim this one!
Did someone beat you who you think is not as good as you? Good for them. What can you control? Because you sure as Monday follows Sunday cannot control them!
Did you prepare for the session properly? Nutrition? Rest? Were you stressed and / or tired before you got there?
Remember too that EVERYONE has good sessions & bad sessions.
Its not just you. We cannot all be super stars all the time. Even the great ones fall down from time to time. Its what happens when they get back up that makes them great!
Bank it and move on.
Every triathlete has a unique performance goals that need to be approached with an individual triathlon coaching program.
Paul is a British Triathlon Federation Level 3 Coach now based in Western Australia.
* By the way - anyone under the age of about 40 will probably have to look up who Sean Kelly is: CLICK HERE