Of the many valuable lessons impressed upon me during my time working with Brett, the Doc, there is one that rings true time and time again from professional ranks to age groupers alike. It is to play the hand you’re dealt.
What does this mean? Playing the hand you’re dealt….It could for example mean any of the following:-
- that you started swimming at 40, are 5’4, and not flexible so NO you will never swim like Michael Phelps
- you are riding a TT bike before running a marathon so NO you will never cycle at 120 rpm like Chris Froome
- your GI may not be able to absorb calories like Chrissie Wellington so NO you can’t ignore the vomiting instead slow down and play defense until you can start racing again
- you’re in your 50’s dealing with a history of injuries and crashes that have left you with a body that isn’t able to bend and respond as it used so NO you can’t expect that to change with hoping.
The true lesson is that you accept your own limitations and maximize what you can do with the body you have on race day.
I was able to see this lesson truly and valiantly in action watching my athlete Claudia Kretschman race her way to a 3rd place finish in her age group at Ironman Mt. Tremblant last week.
Claudia has a long history in triathlon racing successfully in the 2000s in Kona as an age grouper and even racing back in the early 90s as a professional. But over her long career, she has faced many setbacks from injuries and crashes that have left her with body in her 50s that isn’t the same as the one she had in her 20s. An accident a few years ago resulted in severe damage to her cervical spine, her C1 vertebra was shattered in 7 places and the ligaments on both sides of her neck were shredded. This injury requiried Claudia to have a fusion from the base of her skull to her C4 and left her with very limited movement in her neck. During her comeback last year, she had another setback as a stress fracture in her heel left her once again on the sidelines. Yet despite these setbacks, Claudia was intent on not only completing her comeback Ironman in Mt. Tremblant but also on fighting to be at the top of her age group.
Claudia’s neck fusion has required her to adjust to a new style of swimming and biking. Rather than focus on what she can’t do, Claudia has improvised. She can no longer sight while swimming by lifting her head, so Claudia has adopted a stroke with a breaststroke stop every 40-50 cycles to check that she Is on course. Most athletes would use this as an excuse to accept slower swim times but not Claudia. She is pushing herself to match and surpass her previous swim times even with this new adjustment that costs her time and interrupts her momentum.
Before the neck fusion, and after, showing how Claudia has adjusted her bike position.
Likewise on the bike, Claudia is no longer able to achieve her old aero position but has had to make adjustments that allow her to maintain an aero position that suits her new limited mobility. While many would use this as an excuse for slower bike times, Claudia is continuing to push herself to get and stay as aero as she can within the severe limitations of her neck flexibility. Claudia accepts the body she has but does not use it as an excuse. She strives to continually challenge herself and raise the bar.
Finally, on the run, despite her heel injury last fall, Claudia has put in the miles and built up slowly accepting that she has to adjust her run training and style to be strong and fit to run off an Ironman bike. While it may not lead to her fastest half marathon splits it has paid off in Ironman where she is strong and efficient to the final steps of the marathon.
We can all learn from Claudia who truly exemplifies Doc’s lesson. Yes she has been dealt a raw hand by the accident and injuries that have left her with a body that is never going to be as flexible or resilient as it was in her 20s. But instead of dwelling on what she can’t do, Claudia focused on maximizing what she can do despite her limitations and triumphed racing her way to a top performance.
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.
Last week I made an honest attempt to defend those developing pro athletes who train every bit as hard as the champions. They have the right not only of our respect, but for the sport’s leaders to provide a pathway for a sustainable career that will benefit both sides.
That aside, the pros do need a sharp reality check – as their predicament is largely self inflicted.
There is still a way to make a small living in triathlon if one is prepared to be disciplined in one’s training and racing schedule.
With the proliferation of new races worldwide – I find it quite concerning the amount of underperforming newcomers who ask about coaching, but then talk about sponsors and fulfilling a travel schedule that looks like a Contiki tour so they can ‘get to Kona’.
That’s all before the standard ‘I can’t afford to get a proper coach’ – despite the coach having a proven track record of delivering exactly what their goals are.
Many are disappointed when instead of producing a magic wand, I suggest they focus on improving their performance to be good enough to earn a pay cheque in the first place. Living out of a suitcase in an airline transit area, competing at races that you are not good enough to be at is the worst possible way to move forward if one’s goals are to be good.
If you have serious flaws in one or two of the triathlon disciplines – ‘joining the circuit’ for 12 months will leave you right back where you started. No money and no improvement.
Sarah Crowley justly rewarded for a long term, professional approach to the sport. Photo: Korupt Vision
Over the past 12 months we have seen the meteoric rise up the professional ladder of Sarah Crowley. Sarah left a well paid corporate job to follow her dream – and I’m proud to say followed a different path to the majority of the inquiries we deal with.
Realising rather quickly that being ‘good’ was more important than the holiday circuit, she got an excellent coach and paid not to go to races but training camps to improve her weaknesses.
A former solid runner at ITU level, she engaged her coach Cam (Cam Watt) who is a bike expert, and they also flew to Jeju, South Korea for swim focussed training. For a month she trained with Daniela Ryf to see how the very best worked.
With improving performances she had the opportunity to get sponsored products – but instead followed her coach’s advice:
“Do not take on inferior products – it will cost you performance and money!”
Losing two minutes over 180km because you’re endorsing slower equipment can be the difference between a win or a fourth. Sarah again wanted what is best for performance. Not to be able to say ‘I have a sponsor’!
Such long term thinking has paid off very handsomely. She is now the current holder of the Ironman 70.3 Middle East, Ironman Asia Pacific and Ironman European regional Championships. For those who were at Sarah’s level two years ago, the improvement is not luck.
Taking The Plunge
It is not to say everyone can make the huge leap she has, but I can identify many others who with professional attitudes have made the step from very good age groupers to real “pros”.
The greatest of them is the legend called, Chrissie Wellington. She took a one week trial with yours truly and then gambled her savings on coaching and camps that would make her the best she could be. She was going to the top or back to a ‘real job’. No grey area.
Similarly, last weekend James Cunnama destroyed the field at IM Hamburg. Writing this I remember James contacting me some 10 years ago and asking what is the best way to become a “real” pro. He was advised to get on a plane and come to camp, so he could get the best possible judgement. Like the others he made the difficult transition with two training oriented seasons – and since then has had eight years career professional athlete with more to come.
For those considering making the jump, please understand it is totally different when you’re racing for a pay check to pay the bills each month. The pressure of racing without a safety net is not for everyone. Though I’m happy to give some free advice for those looking to make the transition from good amateur to hard bitten pro.
1) It takes time. I ask people joining Trisutto for three seasons to be the best they can be. If you come into the pro ranks with the ‘I’ll give it one year’ mindset I can help you right now.
Stick to your day job.
2) Invest in quality coaching and in training to improve and develop all three disciplines. Weaknesses that you can get away with as a good amateur will be brutally exploited when you run into the real thing.
3) Pick races that you can access easily and economically. Ensure after a race you are always able to return to base and get on with the most important agenda – training to make you better.
A professional, long term approach will get you to where you want to go much faster than you’d think.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen races with less than stacked fields. It’s drawn criticism and has moved us back to a couple of old hobby horse discussions:
Equal numbers for men and women at Kona, and how good does a pro have to be to be deserving of pay?
It’s been discussed many times and my opinion hasn’t changed from what I advised the former CEO Lew Friedland 17 years ago at Ironman Zurich.
Make the pros equal. Invite 25 men and women – all of whom are paid for qualifying for the World Championship. Have 5 wild cards to use at your discretion for injuries or mitigating circumstances for top athletes.
Prize money for the professionals to begin at 20. Split the pro race. Men start at the current times, women later at noon so they get a fair race and to keeps interest through the day.
It would create a much more competitive field and exciting race, but there’s no will to do that because of the second problem:
Pro purses at races.
Ironman’s current policy seems to be pretty clear on this – ‘We don’t want them’ – and are pursuing a rather effective strategy of watering the prize pool to the point where the ‘professional fields’ are so diluted in most races that they are destined to die a natural death.
It is not the correct strategy. It kills the development of the next champions and undermines the very great aspect of our sport where amateurs can compete next to the sport’s best.
The frustration should not be directed at those athletes doing their best.
You are not going to see deep pro fields while ever the prize money is so small that after taking into account travel and accommodation expenses – to place second or third means you effectively lose money. And that’s with the risk of a Jan Frodeno or Daniela Ryf sweeping down on your race and making a podium your best possible outcome.
There needs to be a system in place, which provides athletes – at their level – the opportunity and financial incentive to work their way up.
- Tier 1 – Kona Championship
- Tier 2 – 4 Major Championships
- Tier 3 – 10 Regional races
- Tier 4 – Pro race series
To get into the higher tiered races with higher prize money races would require qualification from a tier lower.
This way an up and coming pro would not run into an Angry Bird or Mirinda Carfrae as they develop up the ranks. It would also give the pros a pathway to success and would allow not just the Top 10 in the world a way to earn a living, but the top 50.
Why no implementation? Because there is no will.
One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that phasing the pros out all together is on the agenda.
Ironman is a company valued at close to $1 billion dollars, but is too cheap to spend $10 million a year on a prize pool for the pro ranks? No, it is clear they are not part of a larger strategy.
In the meantime it is not fair or fun to watch a developing pro get beaten up by Frodeno or Brownlee by 20 minutes. They shouldn’t be there racing those guys in the first place.
Similarly, in answer to the criticism of ‘these guys are not good enough! They are beaten by age groupers!’ you can only shake your head and laugh. Some ‘age group’ athletes are training 40 hours a week and are between 25 and 40 years-old. They race age group for a reason – they can’t handle the heat of being a pro.
So let’s stick to the main problem for now. The current pros do not need a boot. They need a hand and a sustainable pathway so that they can become great athletes over a period of time – without relying on their parents’ gold card.
Gill Fullen’s 2017 season so far stands at:
- 1 British Duathlon Age Group Title
- Champion Outlaw Half
- 3rd Outlaw Holkham
- Champion Outlaw Full
And let’s not forget the Outlaw Full course record 9.44.48! Gill is the first athlete in the UK to hit the Double for Outlaw race wins.
For me this is an impressive CV of racing results by anyone’s standards on the UK Triathlon circuit. When you consider the fact Gill is 53, those results are phenomenal. Now what’s beyond phenomenal is that less than 12 months ago Gill was battling Breast Cancer!
It’s obvious Gill is a special individual. Back in may I wrote about her Journey when she won the Outlaw Half.
Now she’s just broken a course record and won the Outlaw full on nothing more than 70.3 training. How good could she be? While Gill is talented and impresses me week in week out, it’s amazing to think there is still room to improve!
She does the training, I just conduct a plan for her. And believe me there was a LOT of questioning of the plan leading into this race. Even up until the day before the race we had a good debate about how it might go. My message has always been to put herself in a position where Gill can use her natural mental and physical strength – draw the others into trading punches then the fight is on.
And what a fighter she is! When she listens her application is second to none and the run in to the Outlaw Full has been about learning and listening. This lady is one special individual and for me is an inspiration for not just women in sport, but people in general. I feel honoured and blessed to work with such a character.
A Swim PB and a Bike PB and an Overall PB for an Iron distance race on 70.3 training is amazing. We’re not going to overly push and will train according to what the body can handle. But watch out people for if Gill is at 100% strength to pack her real punch it’s going to be something special.
Perry Agass has been a professional coach for over 10 years and has worked with some of the best coaches and athletes in the world. He is a passionate, motivated and very thorough with excellent results.
Perry regularly holds camps in Cyprus for all levels of athletes.
Swimming in a group can be more fun! Trisutto age group camp in St Moritz.
Age group athletes listen up!
As we head into the business end of the season, I have been asked by three different cross sections of athletes struggling with motivation at the very time they expected themselves to be at their most enthusiastic. What are these three cross sections of athletes?
2/ Age group athletes who have, or are trying to qualify for Kona.
3/ Age group athletes who have taken on triathlon as their sport to help with improving their lifestyle.
With each group having a totally different solution I will address each section in separate blogs. We will start by giving the most important group the first response. Triathlon for the newbie can be very exciting, empowering, frightening and frustrating in equal measures. When I’m asked to address diminishing motivation after an exuberant start; or the age group athlete who has been doing the sport for a few seasons and although super competitive their late start curtails podium finishes in their age group; I always point them in one direction.
Back to the future!
When you first started what were your thoughts?
Why did you get into triathlon?
What were your initial goals?
I advise not to brush off the very best thing you can do, which is to break down the problem to the basic truth. You are overlooking all the benefits triathlon has provided, have started to think too far forward, and maybe also too competitively.
The sport begins very encouragingly, but has a propensity to take over from the reality of why we should be doing it! We start out looking to build a healthier lifestyle, to improve our physical condition, to help build improvement in oneself. At Trisutto whether you are a champion, a pro or an elite age group athlete, you are not hounded about winning. Try to let the sport help you grow as an individual – your only competitor is yourself.
Winning does not mean success. We place so much emphasis on individually being a success, however in a world that is built on more is better, faster is optimum, we tend to lose sight of what success is. To me the lack of motivation mostly comes from the results one looks at, rather than the most important part, which is the journey. This is the element where success is built, and self satisfaction can be found for all levels.
I point out on a weekly basis to some athletes who are not happy, that they are failing, and can’t see it. They dispute this very quickly, saying they are now 30 minutes faster, have gone from 30th in their age group to 10th but still want that podium. It’s driving them nuts.
For me, I ask really? Who for? What for? Why for?
They look at me rather strange.
Are you unhappy, never satisfied, having personal family problems because of an insistence on more training time, and find work now a hindrance to your new obsession? Personally does Brett Sutton find this success?
No. This loss of perspective is what is hurting our motivation.
The ability to use triathlon to enhance our lifestyle should not be measured in numbers. Instead how our new hobby enhances not just our fitness but our lot in life. So when you guys get a little stressed about a missed work out, or the need to have an easy day, look back to your original reasons for starting the sport.
Are you enhancing your lifestyle or hindering it?
It takes courage to back off and say this is not about next months competition, but is a plan for the rest of my life. It can’t be defined by such short term thinking. I advise to take a good look in the mirror. Then give yourself a good slap and say wake up! Go back to your original thoughts of what you first wanted out of the sport, and I’m sure your motivation for the future will be secured.
If looking for a motivational boost, join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Daniela Ryf at one of the multiple pre-race media commitments at Challenge Roth.
When you’ve been such a warrior throughout your career as Yvonne has, and is struggling for form and recovering from an exhausting event – it’s probably not be the best time to vent grievances when the cause of the real frustration lies elsewhere.
But it is symptomatic of the problems the sport faces at the top level of performance. A situation where you have “professional” triathletes complaining about their competitors being too professional:
Challenge Roth is a world class sporting competition. It is not about the ‘buzz’ and pre-race drindl and pasta parties.
You don’t see Roger Federer or Rafal Nadal spending ‘5-6 hours’ the day before Wimbledon around the grounds to soak in the pre-competition atmosphere and you won’t see Daniela doing it either.
Challenge wants the best athletes at their number one event. They also want them to prepare to be at their very best for when the gun goes off. So no-one, including the organiser’s, are going to apologise because the world’s best prepares and executes her build up to be ready for giving 100% race day.
As for my personal view; many professionals in triathlon tend to get lost between viewing triathlon as a competitive sport vs. triathlon as a lifestyle hobby. And because the long distance version of triathlon hasn’t figured out a sustainable model for the pros yet, the latter to some extent is inevitable. But without the former the sport is lost.
Daniela’s nickname is the Angry Bird for a reason. Just as Caroline Steffen’s was Xena. They are warriors. I point out to all our followers, we can’t all be smilers. The Bird is intensely focused on her performance and that is part of why she has cranked out three of the ten greatest female race performances of all time.
She will not be changing that.
And instead of complaining about it, maybe some of her competitors might want to take a harder look at how a champion goes about preparing for their race. She took longer than anyone else for her swim warm up? Boo hoo. Observe Alastair Brownlee pre race and see if he doesn’t exert a bit of authority. Officials were there on the start line.
Our age group athletes will never show any respect for our pro athletes while they allow the hoopla and hype of an event to affect race day performance. If Daniela starts to do that, she will need a new coach.
Of course the irony of all this is that only reason she was racing in Roth at all was out of respect for the race and her fans. She was not ready. She is not fit. She raced still recovering from injury against the wishes of her coach. She had the slowest last 25km run of her iron distance career – showing great physical and mental courage to get the job done out of respect for the event and fans. That should be applauded.
Instead, we have a witchhunt on social media because they had a shot at the Champ at her worst and still weren’t up for it.
It’s not for those standing off the dais to be lecturing those on top of it about professionalism.
Racing is war. The great ones understand it and love it. The good ones understand it and hate it. The rest we leave to themselves.