Triathlon is a draining sport and too often I see professional and age group athletes racing and training at a high level year-round, day in and day out, year after year. This is not healthy or sustainable.
Humans have since the dawn of time advocated a Sabbath or time of rest. Religion has always seen a benefit in integrating mindful rest into our lives. In addition, our earliest industry, agriculture, saw the benefit of taking a break to allow for rebalancing and rejuvenation. Allowing the land to go fallow lowered yield in the short term in exchange for keeping the land vital for years to come.
In today’s fast paced world, whether in triathlon or in our outside life, we are unwilling to rest and only do so as a last resort once we are sick, injured, or burnt-out. Instead of preserving our long-term health, we chase the short-term performance.
Stuck in a vicious cycle, the modern athlete refuses to take the time to recover that both our body and mind require. Constantly in a state of exhaustion, it is not possible to rebuild without taking time away. The toughest challenge in the world may be to take the step back and rest taking a Sabbatical from the constant stress of the chase.
I would advocate every seventh year a break from high-level long course triathlon racing or at the very least an offseason every year. The professional athletes with highest career longevity take the time each year to rest their mind and body. Likewise, as you see the current crop of women triathletes taking a sabbatical to expand or start a family, I would venture to guess you will see many of these top performers come back stronger in the next five years as the time of unstructured training has allowed both their mind and body to rebalance.
Trying something different over the off-season, means you stay fit and continue to have fun.
We can all learn from our ancestors that rest is a vital part of long term development. Rest doesn’t need to mean sitting on the couch, it can mean enjoying some shorter races or doing an xterra or trying a new sport rather than chasing a Kona qualifier that year. But do give your mind and body a break from the constant struggle of long course racing. Taking a step away to restore your body and your passion for the sport whether for a month or a year will allow you to return in a healthier happier state ready to attack the next season.
Mary Beth Ellis is one of the USA’s most decorated long distance triathletes. A member of the US National Team for 4 years, during her career she was an elite ITU racer as well as Top 5 Ironman World Championship finisher. Mary Beth Ellis runs her Trisutto.com coaching program in Andover Massachusetts in the USA and speaks English.
Now that I’ve had some time to fully transition to my coaching role, I see so many of the mistakes I made as an athlete. First and foremost is the: Missing In Action (MIA) Athlete syndrome.
I was impossible to coach because of my lack of communication. I think this is one of the key reasons I was able to train and race infinitely better while in a camp situation where coach could watch me in the workout and get at least a few words of feedback out of me after a session. While away from camp, I would go quiet and when I did sent feedback it was data, as I was reticent to report back how I truly felt.
As an athlete, I thought my job was to do the training and shut up. I didn’t realize that giving detailed feedback, not just the data but also qualitative analysis of how I honestly felt, would help not only me but my coach. I think many athletes fall into this trap. They either only provide their coach with factual data on the workout or even worse give zero feedback at all. As a coach, it is hard to know exactly what your athlete is doing and how they are progressing with no feedback to review. The best tool your coach has is the athlete’s response to training and this is what truly will make the relationship successful. The best training plan in the world can fail if the communication is lacking.
My message to athletes is this. Please do not worry that you are weak or soft if you give an honest statement about how the session unfolded. The data is great, but your perceived effort is better. As a coach, I want to know if your legs felt heavy or you struggled on the hills, if you’re exhausted or you felt amazing. Please tell your coach everything, as this qualitative analysis doesn’t need to be long or overly detailed it just needs to be honest. This information is essential in completing the feedback loop and allows your coach and you to be even better together.
My old motto as an athlete was “shut up and do your job.”
My new motto as a coach is “do your job and let me know how it went.”
Mary Beth Ellis is one of the USA’s most decorated long distance triathletes with 11 Ironman Distance victories and a World ITU Long Course Title. Mary Beth has been a full time Trisutto coach since 2016 after she retired from Professional racing.
Racing in Challenge Wanaka, Emma Bilham had a great podium performance to kick off her long course season. Emma led out of the water with the fastest swim, had a solid bike, and capped off her day with the fastest run split. Emma is on a roll and the momentum from this stellar performance will take her straight into Ironman New Zealand in a few weeks.
Unfortunately, Jennifer Lentzke’s race was not to be. She had a bike crash avoiding another racer the day before Challenge Wanaka. A cracked rib left Jennifer on the sidelines race day, deciding to be smart and save her racing for later this spring when she is back at 100%.
Last weekend we had three of our Brisbane Trisutto crew fly down to the Geelong 70.3. Geelong is notorious for throwing extremes in weather from one day to the next.. I’ve been there when it’s been 47 degrees, where organisers of a criterium allowed feeding every 1km lap!! Then other extremes of wind, rain and feeling like it’s about to snow!!
Sunday produced the later…
Josh Amberger produced a solid day across all 3 legs, leading the swim out, then thinning the pretenders out on the bike, where eventual winner Sam Appleton was the only one that could keep up, a little rough patch for Josh early in run allowed Sam to open a small gap which he maintained to the finish. Josh is next off to the inaugural round of the Super League Triathlon where on his way to his first IM (and 2nd ever) of the year in South Africa.
Another podium for Sarah.
Sarah Crowley showed great fight back to claim 3rd behind Bella Luxford and Barb Riveros. After going off course in the swim, she gave the first 3 girls 2:20min head start out of the water, but clawed her way back with the 2nd fastest bike split to come off with Ellie Salthouse, but the effort came at cost, and was unable to hold off the fast finishing Riveros (who was 5th place RIO no less).
Katey ready to rock-and-roll in Geelong!
Katey Gibb put in a solid performance to place 6th. After a solid swim and bike where she towed a few around on bike, it gave us a good gauge on progress and another hard day in the bank in her long term journey up the long course ranks….
Last Friday, Dubai-based Filipino triathlete Paolo Magnilinan was in action for his third race of the year, at the TriYas Sprint Triathlon in the UAE. He managed a very strong swim, and maintained a good rhythm on the bike, then closed it off strongly on the run. His efforts were rewarded with the top spot in his age group.
Top 10 overall for Andy at the Bangsaen Triathlon. Photo Credit: Asia Tri
A few days later, near Bangkok, Andy Wibowo of Bali Indonesia was competing in his second race in 7 days, at the Bangsaen triathlon, of the Thailand Tri League, which was of the unique distance of 1500m swim + 75 KM bike + 15 KM run. Andy managed to keep touch with the main group of pros on the swim and bike. Despite some confusion on the bike course, he managed to reach T2 with a few seasoned professionals from Australia and Europe. On the run, his effort on the first 2 legs showed, and he soldiered to a respectable top 10 in the international field.
Powerman Indonesia gets the thumbs up from James in its inaugural year.
On the same day, Andy’s countryman, James “Joi” Iskandar broke the ice for his season, by doing his first ever long distance Duathlon, at the inaugural Powerman Indonesia. He put together a very solid all-around effort, over the 10 KM run – 60 KM bike – 10 KM run, to finish in 3h49. This being used as a training race, it sets the tone for a promising year, where the objective is to improve gradually, safely and consistently.
Congratulations Leanne on conquering the Husky Long Course.
I had one athlete racing this past weekend, down under, in Huskisson. Leanne Smyth raced her second long course race this (Aussie) season at the same place she did her very first sprint triathlon a year ago. Leanne had a solid race overall setting new personal bests in the swim (2min) and the run (5min). “Today hurt but it was a different pain….I could feel I was fitter and more conditioned and it gave me a quiet confidence to push through I haven’t felt before. It was a good race and I can’t believe how much I’ve improved in only 10 weeks. So thanks coach. We had a good day 🙂 “.
What has impressed me the most about Leanne, and which has made working with her an absolute pleasure, is her tenacity and determination to get the homework done while juggling a law profession and a young family. But even more so what underscored her character – that which is made when no one is watching – this time around were the brutal conditions in which her preparation had to unfold leading into this race. As many a reader will be aware south eastern Australia was suffocating for weeks on end from a stifling heat wave. Morning temperatures would easily rise above 30C, often reading +45C by mid day, with no respite even in the early evening. Not one to be deterred she often got up at 4am to get her long rides done on the turbo in the relative “coolness” of her garage demonstrating time and again one precious quality that no one can coach – desire.
Leanne’s dedication and desire reminds me of a quote that hung at the gym at Royal Roads Military College where I once studied. Thought I would share it as it is quite inspirational and reflective.
Congratulations to David Nicholson for two PBs in one race – half marathon and 10k on the way. He raced on tired legs after 3 days of climbing in Wales. Consistent training paying off, great job David! He described the race in a very short report: This was a great race for me. Felt really well prepared, fresh despite 12 hours climbing and lots of driving in the past three days. Started out behind the 1.45 marker but soon decided that I could press on. Went through 10km in 47 mins (new PB), struggled slightly with cramp after 13km so eased back for a few mins, felt OK again by 15km. Very pleased with gel strategy (5, 10, 14, 18km) which kept my cadence high and strong rhythm right to the finish. New PB of 1.42 – down from 1.45.
Kati Pusey ran a 5k cross country event as a training race last weekend and did very well despite not having proper shoes, lesson learned but a great training which she will benefit from in early season races. This is how she has described her race: The race was tough. it was so muddy and with normal trainers I was sliding all over the place. But raced hard and considering the conditions came in mid field. It is such a skill to run fell. Good and hard training day!
It seems to be an English speciality to design muddy races this time of the year and Steve Lyons excelled last weekend despite not tapering for the race. His short report below: The event was brutal!! And I mean brutal! The run was up a massive hill with snow on the tops 42 mins in total and the bike ride was constant climbs, the only downhill being too technical to relax. 1hr 2mins. The final run was up a hill and less brutal, only 15 mins. All in all a great event and I gave it everything, 2nd in age group. The guy that won it was previous uk cyclocross champ.
Andrea Rudin ran in the Town Of Seaside Park Run on Saturday morning. A nice 5km warm up lap of the course, a 5km race pace effort, and a 5km cool down, followed by a splash in the ocean a nice way to start the weekend (Andrea also completed a solid swim set at the pool in the afternoon, then ran the 8km home – another good day of training). Well done Andrea.
Mark Richardson ran a 20 mile road race at Bramley in the UK on Sunday as part of preparations for Ironman South Africa in April. The day before was a long bike and recovery swim. During the run race, Mark used the moderate, medium, mad approach, holding back the first half, then building through to the finish. Another recovery swim to loosen up, and an excellent weekend of training was completed. Well done Mark.
Congratulations to all our athletes competing this weekend.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
ITU World Long Course Champion Mary Beth Ellis is calling for consistent rules and rulings.
I may be a non-practicing engineer but I recall all the key principles from my undergraduate engineering studies. In any information technology field, a key tenet is garbage in equals garbage out (GIGO). This refers to the fact that any computer model operates by logical processes. If the data provided is nonsensical or inaccurate (garbage in) then the outcome will also be nonsensical (garbage out). GIGO is also commonly used to describe failures in human decision-making due to faulty, incomplete, or imprecise data.
Why GIGO in Triathlon you ask? Well as professional athletes we are racing to be fastest across the finish line and every second counts. But currently in sport there is a problem with consistency and from race to race the rules are constantly changing. Without clear rules that are consistently enforced by educated officials and a fair field of play, our sport and its results are not only arbitrary but have become garbage.
GIGO in triathlon: Arbitrary drafting rules enforced differently event to event.
First, starting with consistent rules, the long course organisers do not have a global set of rules that are executed at every event around the world. The ITU does this with excruciating detail and it pays off. ITU races are consistent and well executed leading to fair racing and making it easy for officials as they need only refer to the rulebook. In long course racing, the rules are not only widely different around the world but are also enforced differently by different officials. The rules enforced in France are different from those in Denmark, the US, or Australia. Athletes don’t know whether to wear a number belt or not, what helmet they can use, whether items need to be in their transition bags, if there is a race briefing and if it’s mandatory, and last but certainly not least the draft zone anywhere from 7 meters to 20 meters but may or may not be enforced at races or even consistently in one event from official to official. When the rules and their inconsistencies are not always clearly communicated to athletes and enforced properly, the race results are random.
Flick Abram was DQ’d at Alpe d’Huez triathlon for not wearing her race number belt on the run.
Second, without a consistent set of rules, the officials have a very difficult task and little to no guidance. As was shown clearly during the NFL lockout in the United States, officiating matters and consistent enforcement is critical. The long course organisers need to ensure that the head referee at every race knows the global rules and leads the entire team at the event to enforce them fairly for the professionals leading the race as well as those at the tail end of the race. Investing in education and adequate compensation for their officials should be a priority for long course races.
Finally, a fair field of play is not delivered on a regular basis to the women. Too often, female professionals are not given appropriate start times relative to the professional and age group men. At the front of the race, the faster swimmers have to deal with interference from a handful of slower professional men. While the women who are slower swimmers face an even bigger issue with age group men as the sheer numbers riding with them leads to dangerous and often untenable situations. The professional women are only asking for a fair race but time and time again we are forced to have our races questioned after the fact due to conditions completely outside our control. Elite marathons had this issue and resolved it by completely separating and creating a women’s professional start clear from all men. These world class marathons created an event where the women have a race that is both fair and completely their own. In triathlon with the interference occurring on the bike, we need our own race even more desperately as the advantages and disadvantages of all this traffic are more impactful. The professional women triathletes deserve a fair and safe race that showcases all their abilities without any outside factors affecting the outcome.
I don’t want our sport to be arbitrary. To prevent this we need to establish long course rules that are standardised across all countries, brands, and events, have officials that are properly educated and compensated for their time and effort, and create fair races that provide women especially with competitions free from outside interference. It’s time to once and for all take out the garbage and make our sport clean and fair for all.
Pro Penalty Box
Leanda Cave was DQ’d in Ironman France for forgetting to put on her race number belt for the bike.
Heather Wurtele was DQ’d in Ironman Cour d’Alene for abandonment of equipment when she took Christie Sym’s bike after she had a bike mechanical which prevented her from continuing on her own bike.
Outside assistance from Bek Keat saved Chrissie Wellington’s Kona. But the unauthorized assistance rule is never enforced.
It states “Unauthorized Assistance. No participant shall accept from any person (other than a race official) physical assistance in any form, including food, drink, equipment, support, pacing, a replacement bicycle or bicycle parts, unless an express exception has been granted and approved, in writing, by USA Triathlon. The receipt of information regarding the progress, split times, or location of other competitors on the race course shall not be considered the acceptance of unauthorized assistance. Any violation of this Section shall result in a variable time penalty”
Cutting the course in Challenge Dubai or at the Koh Sumai Triathlon is fine but will lead to a DQ at other events depending on officials and the race organiser’s subjective opinion.
Mitch Anderson and Annabelle Luxford being give one minute start penalty for arriving late to a race briefing at 70.3 Busso. The penalty was eliminated after they paid to protest this ruling.
Mary Beth Ellis receiving a four minute penalty in Challenge Denmark for not properly packing her T1 bag and leaving the legs of her wetsuit hanging outside.
Chrissie receiving assistance in 2008.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Atlas was a Titan carrying quite a burden. According to the mythology, he had the weight of the whole world on his shoulders.
The Ayn Rand book “Atlas Shrugged” which if you can wade through the endless speeches is about rational selfishness. This concept should be easy for any professional athlete to understand; it is the principle that an action is rational if and only if it maximizes one’s self-interest. The significance of the title is referenced in a conversation between two characters, one asks what advice he would give Atlas upon seeing that “the greater his effort, the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders”. The character then responds to his own question saying: “To shrug”.
Athletes face expectations every day that weigh upon their shoulders like Atlas’ burden. I have to some extent after winning a string of Ironman titles. Most of my expectations were self-imposed but some from media, fans, and sponsors. However the burden on my shoulders pales in comparison to that of the defending Ironman world champion as they are temporarily at the center of the tri-universe under the sweltering spotlight race week. The pressure may be contained in public but their friends, family, and confidants will tell you a different story of pervasive stress and anxiety. Why do some rise to become a Titan under the mantle while others falter under this weight? I think it comes down to selfishness and perspective.
The winning athlete uses the expectations to get the most out of him or her self and relishes the pressure. These athletes push their performance to a higher level when everything is on the line. A winner will perceive the expectations as a positive knowing that it means they have arrived. These athletes I also surmise have a bit of Ayn Rand’s rational selfishness. They are able to focus solely on themselves and don’t consider anyone else especially on race day. This outlook will not only win world championships and Olympic medals but will go a step further and defend these titles successfully. The winning attribute is the ego to face another athlete on the line knowing that he or she is the best and will prevail. In life, this attitude may come off as selfish entitlement but on race day it is survival.
Conversely, the athletes that falter under the weight of expectations will shrug instead of rising to the occasion. These athletes may win all year but choke at the big championship events. Being less rationally selfish, these individuals are unable to focus on their own performance. Losing athletes are sensitive to other’s thoughts and often lacking the enormous ego required to win. These athletes don’t relish the challenge and when things start to go wrong they look for any external excuses to blame for their failings.
The real winner is the athlete that can enjoy the expectations, rise to the challenge but leave their sense of entitlement on the field of play.
8 x Ironman Winner Mary Beth Ellis will compete at the ITU World Long Course Championships in Motala this weekend.