I wrote last recently on the idea of having two fuel tanks, one for fitness activities and the other on reserve for survival. Using that analogy as a reference point, and linking to the concerns I raised in the essay last week regarding knowing when you are ready for your event or not, I urge you to train in such a way that you have tested and are confident that your fitness tank is sufficient to carry you through the entire event, at least while going along at a moderate pace and without pressure to perform better than your peers. If you have not proven this in practice already, or if you have to tap into your reserve tank just to get through the event – and I mean tap it to push your body physically or psychologically to keep going despite pain or fear – then you have not trained sufficiently for your event. You probe the limits of your performance system components in practice, revealing where the weak spots are, and then you work to increase strength and skills around those during your training, not waiting until the event to discover them. This is how you greatly reduce the risk of physical and mental injury and increase your longevity in the sport.
Photo by Erin Simmons on Unsplash
Within this standard of preparation, there is a progression of goals I use to help my athlete and me recognize what stage of development they are working in. For the event you have chosen to prepare for, you would aim to work your way through each of these phases of development…
- Prepare to swim the event for the first time, competently and comfortably.
- Prepare to swim the event better than before, with more skill, and more strength.
- Prepare to swim the event faster, competing intentionally with your peers or with your previous best performance.
Only in phase 3, after (likely) years of training and experience in doing so, might you deliberately choose to dip into the reserve tank while competing, and you would do so with experience and reliable routines for training and recovery that would allow you to do this with low risk of injury to the body or mind. Spending months and perhaps years working through the first two goals builds the foundation for being able to do that.
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Yes, very good points, especially for those doing more high endurance events, like long open water and triathlons. Also true for someone like me, who has little interest in these and prefers to work on shorter, faster events (50, 100, 200 and maybe a 750 m swim for a sprint triathlon). Thanks for posting, Coach Mat.
Hi Robert! Yes, my advice here is aimed toward longer events where some people equate ‘endurance’ with ‘great suffering’, and it does not need to be that way. A converse argument can be made against over-training or even over-preparing, for any event distance, but all of these arguments are just trying to point out the unnecessary and potentially harmful extremes people can get into. Short-distance training and racing has its extremes and pitfalls also. We’re advocating for a healthier Middle Way.