Looking at long-term goals

August 22nd 2018

By Matt Hill
Categories: Triathlon Training

Looking at long-term goals

In today’s hi-tech world, the pace of everything is accelerating. Information is available within milliseconds and fools us into believing there are instant ways to achieve long-term goals.

Long-term goals and peak results

When has anything worth having been easy or instantly attainable?

Long term goal - Kona QualificationTriathlon race performance is one area that, as coaches, we are very familiar with. Triathletes expect to be able to step up to the next level: to reach National, European or World Championships. This may be possible and may be a perfectly good goal – when developed over the right timeframe.

Regardless of whether you are self- or professionally-coached, there are some basic considerations. These must be considered and assessed as to whether it is realistic to expect results quickly.

Time and Patience

Everyone acknowledges the time it takes for top athletes to reach peak performance. However, when it comes to high achiever adults (type A personalities – most triathletes), this knowledge is often thrown out the window. Results are expected in much less time in spite of  fitting in a fulltime career and family!

The key components of development that you must consider, no matter your age:

  1. Skill acquisition
  2. Aerobic conditioning
  3. Strength
  4. Mental approach

Peak Performance Needs

By following these points, your long-term goals and development will be a smoother and longer lasting journey. Skipping elements can cause setbacks, injury and burnout !Let’s look at each component in turn, particularly for the late adult athlete wanting to achieve high performance quickly.

Skill acquisition

Skill acquisition can be broken into 3 stages; 1. Cognitive, 2. Associative and 3. Autonomous. Stage 1 and 2 happen through coaching and repetition, which ultimately results in stage 3.

(Fitts and Posner (1967), Three Stages of Motor Learning)

Skill Acquisition

Note that during the Cognitive stage you will make rapid gains! As you develop and progress into stages 2 and 3, movements becomes more automated, but you still need to focus and practice.

Skill Acquisition is the science that underpins movement learning and execution and is more commonly termed motor learning and control (Williams & Ford, 2009)”.

Skill acquisition comes via motor / movement learning, not technique. Technique is highly over-rated as an effective training element, especially for adults! Repeating traditional drills will NOT help you acquire movement skills.

As an adult and late comer to a sport you will NOT be able to develop neural pathways to achieve the “perfect” technique. It is pretty much impossible. Acquisition of skills can ONLY occur through childhood and puberty.

Skill development should therefore be very basic:

  • Know the correct movement pattern
    • In swimming the hand ENTERS, PRESSES and PUSHES back before recovering
  • Execute it as well as your body will allow
    • Work with your limb length, flexibility, strength – which will all change over time
  • Do it – a lot!
    • Replicate the movement for race distance; 3800 times if you swim the perfect Ironman distance with a 1 metre stroke length!

Aerobic conditioning

Along with developing your skills, aerobic conditioning is the main component that is essential to success. Aerobic conditioning does take time (years) to build, when performed correctly.

It is a common mistake to focus solely on speed, working at intensities above aerobic levels.

This approach limits returns; however, it will:

  • provide a false sense of achievement (fatigue / aches)
  • boost egos – in group environments
  • lead to injury and overtraining
  • lead to under-performing

If you have years of training but with very little at an aerobic level, your aerobic capacity won’t be at or near its peak!

Low intensity base training is the only way to truly build your aerobic conditioning. It must be a staple feature of every training plan and be developed over a long period of time.  The longer you spend training it, the higher you will peak.

Remember our last blog, where Frank Horlacher provided an insight into his journey leading to his 11th Kona qualification? He has been training his body correctly for years, and its paid off, again!


As an adult you will be generally strong but not strong specifically in the areas needed to perform well. How many times have you seen children swim, bike or run past grown adults? It’s not because of overall strength, they are NOT physically stronger.

They have developing the correct movement patterns (acquired the right skills through childhood) and specific strength to perform effortlessly!

You are best acquiring strength in a sport by performing the sport itself and focussing on the strength needed for replicating the movement pattern. Swim paddles, stomping big gears / hills, running hill reps all build triathlon specific strength.

Strength training in a gym should only be considered if you have the time and are already training 12+hours in swim, bike and run.

Mental approach

The mental approach is often not addressed but can make the difference to your overall training and racing development.

Know why you do triathlon. What is it you want to achieve? What processes do you need to follow?

Simply focussing on the end game, qualifying for Kona or a Championships, will not get you there!

To find out your needs, work with your coach or get yourself filmed so that you can see what you need to develop (or send it to info@mastersoftri.com for an assessment!) Use any observations to make your own personal processes and focus on them. To make the processes automatic for your racing, you must focus and repeat them.

Race day attitude

It is important to stay positive and objective leading up to race day, if you start the race in the wrong mindset, no processes will get you through!

Blocking out the tendency to be emotional and negative will help you perform better. Learn what your negative tendencies are and block them. Jumping to conclusions about poor (or good!) weather reports, competitor comments, etc, will affect your performance unless you block them out (or rationalise them).

Social media has become a significant source of negativity and a place to “vent” negative thoughts. Most pre-race posts on social media indicate doubts, worry, fear and distraction – you should ignore them!

Go back and read your posts, posts of others, even posts of pro’s and see whether you can spot a trend. Everyone at a race is going to cover the same distance in the same conditions, simply focus on yourself and conquer your emotions.


At the end of the day, there are no short cuts to achieving anything, we all know this. Don’t expect to satisfy your goal to qualify for the world championships to be different – this is an ideal long-term goal.

With several years of consistent hard work you will reach your peak and be healthier and stronger for it. Long-term goals are achievable in relatively short periods – if approached correctly!

Enjoy your hobby for longer and reach you true potential. Why rush the process?