Processes Part 1 – an overview of triathlon processes
Race results, or performance, are the outcomes achieved as a result of the training. The quality of the performance is governed by how well you adhere to the processes of training. How well you adhere to the processes takes commitment and discipline.
Not knowing what your training processes are or if you lack confidence in them is not going to help you reach your potential. If you want good outcomes you need to commit to your processes, which means NOT diverging from them as a result of talking to other athletes, reading magazines, watching YouTube videos etc and “cherry-picking” training approaches or sessions.
Accept and commit
We brief our athletes to believe in, accept and follow the process of training and to forget the outcomes, especially before and during races. We are not alone in this concept; it’s well documented that “following the process” is so powerful when trying to achieve outcomes, whether in sports or business.
But what are processes and how do they relate to outcomes; and how do they fit together?
Processes vs outcomes
Processes can be defined as a series of action that create consistency and lead to successful execution of a task. In our case, the processes are directly linked to training and to develop the movements, strength and mental focus to perform well.
Outcomes are things that happen as a result of applying, or not applying, processes. For example, a mental process will help develop adaptive/on-the-go problem solving strategies to overcome those obstacles that will always arise.
Think of outcomes as the future and things that you cannot control. Outcomes in sport are times, average paces/powers, etc. You cannot control them, but you can influence them through process application.
The important thing to take away is that you CAN control processes, but you can´t control outcomes.
Process or outcome goals
Having goals is fine, and we encourage this, but most people set “outcome goals” without thinking about how outcomes goals are achieved – through processes.
If processes are successfully followed and executed, you are doing everything to optimise the chance of the outcome (result) being successful, barring accidents, mechanical issues, etc. The problem is, most people are outcome focused rather than process focused.
Think about your goals; are you focussed on outcomes and fixated by data: “x” time, qualification slots, pace, power, etc rather than simply following the process (of training consistently, focussing on arm movements, leg action, breathing, fuelling, etc)?
There is a certain demographic that are very good at applying processes to achieve outcome goals:
Give children simple and clear instructions in a fun way and they will try their hardest to achieve them and please you.
Adults, on the other hand, too often get distracted by focussing on data (pace, power, etc); what data is necessary to achieve a desired result. This all distracts from the process and we´ll cover more on distractions later.
Processes are everywhere
Processes are a part of all our lives. There will be many processes you follow every day; some will be part of the normal operating procedure (NOP’s) at work, those for emergencies (EAP’s – emergency action plans), etc. In business, processes are there to help the business perform to the correct requirements (legal or specific to the industry) and to ensure the business prospers.
Processes can be applied to the most mundane tasks in everyday life, through to life saving procedures at hospitals. They are also laid out and applied for making sales at work!
An overview of triathlon processes
Back to triathlon, we categorise processes into 3 main groups:
- Training approach – whether you are self-coached or part of a coaching squad, there should be an overall approach in place with set processes that lead to outcomes.
- Physical – developing the physiology and mechanical awareness (sensing what your limbs are doing), movement manipulation, for (learning and using) the perception of effort, etc.
- Mental – developing the mental strength to cope with hard efforts or difficult situations and circumstances such as by reciting mantras to stay focused and controlled, visualising upcoming events, counting, being focussed and “in the zone” etc.
The result (outcome) of a session or race can ultimately be tracked back to whether you adhered to the processes. If you can stay focused (mentally) and apply the (physical) processes specific to the sport and your needs (building endurance, strength and movements), you are much more likely to have a good outcome! Conversely, if you are distracted and don’t consistently work to the processes, the result is likely to be below par and you even risk injury and/or ill-health.
For optimum performance, these processes should be part of your EVERY training session! This way you are consistently applying them so that come race day they are second nature – when you are in the zone.
The ability of top athletes to look relaxed and almost making their World Championship performance look easy is because they are automatically applying all their processes. It looks easy because they are so used to replicating the processes needed for optimum performance.
There are numerous examples of athletes who crash, fall, have a puncture, etc but remain calm, follow processes and get back into the race and even cases of these athletes still winning the race!
It takes discipline to consistently work on processes and there are numerous distractions that we might be exposed to daily that we all fall foul of:
- Fatigue – mental and physical tiredness, linked to stress (work, family), sleep deprivation, fuelling and hydration, training, etc.
- Data – relying on technology to tell you how you are performing; time, pace, power, cadence, HRV, TSS, etc.
- Media – surfing social media platforms is by far the main culprit for hormonal stress and mental negativity. Social media obsession and faults are closely followed by aimlessly watching and listening to TV, music, etc: Whilst music and TV are often ways cited as “an escape” from the monotony of training, both often result in you not being aware of what is actually happening in the session. As both are not available in a race, train without and see how it improves mental strength!
- Training in groups – training with friends / club mates often results in more socialising than training and very often training too hard.
- Smart trainers – with smart trainer apps there are lots of pressures (again mainly driven by social media) to train and often compete with people all over the world.
Some of these distractions are hard to control and correct, fatigue being the hardest. This is why being aware of yourself whilst training is so important, as you (and your coach) might want to review your training plan or make other changes. An assessment and removal of stress influencers such as a change to nutrition, adjustment of sleep patterns, etc, can often correct a problem early.
However, many distractions can be corrected straight away! Remove the outside influences; for example, seriously consider limiting social media (for mental and hormonal health benefits); don´t believe all that you read/see and rather than racing an online digital avatar, focus on YOURSELF.
Sensing your processes
Some people don’t like “being in their head” or find it “boring” without external stimulants. We argue that you are not confined to your head and it isn’t boring! You just aren’t looking at training in the right light. Take responsibility for your OWN development by being in tune with your body and movements.
You should be listening to your body throughout ALL training sessions / races. Using your BRAIN and gaining an awareness of your perceived effort, sensing what your limbs are doing, envisioning the next steps of the session / race, counting down the strokes, pedals or steps, etc. The more you can do this in training the better you can cope when it comes to racing, when you will be alone.
Remove distraction and you will learn thyself; you will have mental references (or write down your observations immediately afterwards) and know what to focus on at a future date.
What are the processes relevant to triathlon?
Think about the end objective: as a triathlete, you want to be able to train to the best of your ability so that you optimise race performance. This means building your aerobic system with low intensity training and building strength to replicate consistent movements / actions that keep your body moving efficiently. Don’t make the mistake of developing the “one speed syndrome”!
Triathlon is an aerobic sport, ALL distances! Therefore, the main priority for performing better must be the development of your aerobic system. Mix this with some sport specific strength to increase muscular endurance and resilience and you have the perfect balance.
Whether you are self-coached or employ a coach to guide you, there should be processes that define the development approach; what you’d call training philosophy.
The processes we have in place for our coached athletes are:
- Establishing a routine, whether it be weekly, 10-day, bi-weekly, etc.
- Consistently working to the routine (or change if necessary).
- Learning perceived effort and training largely in the aerobic range while mixing in swim, bike and run specific strength (whilst in the pool, on the bike and running, not in the gym).
- Repeatedly training the movements we prescribe for the individual – some are generic, some are unique to each athlete (generic and unique processes explained in part 2);
- Learn to be aware of the movements and to “feel” what is happening.
- Establishing a hydration/fuelling strategy that supports the training (in addition to your daily activities)
- Making sure that the routine is adhered to and recovery time is INCLUDED; if other stressors in life increase (work, sleep deprivation, etc) training needs to be adapted. Rest is needed, even if it means less training until things level out. Be aware though that recovery does necessarily mean days off.
- Believe in the above processes; don’t look for shortcuts (doing a session harder if you´re pushed for time), seeking other people’s opinions, secretly cram in additional sessions, etc
- Accepting that you can’t “buy” speed with gadgets and toys – it can only come from your ability to develop your fitness and movements over time.
Finally, accept that these processes are not going to work instantly – developing the aerobic efficiency and strength you need takes time, so be PATIENT.
Physical processes refer to mechanical actions that can be generic or unique to the individual. They make use of your individual abilities such as strength to use mechanical advantage and efficiency in a way to keep the body healthy (moving in “safe” ranges of motion).
Physical processes include:
- Execution of movement patterns specific to the sport of triathlon (not swim, bike or run) and the individual;
- For mechanical advantage (to apply more strength), efficiency and keeping joints safe.
- Learning to be aware of the muscles being recruited to initiate desired movement patterns – small changes of movement can drastically change muscle recruitment.
- Learn to sense and associate perceived effort with how your cardiovascular system and muscles feel; harder efforts result in more burn.
- Learn when to drink and eat by being aware of the subtle inklings that arise much earlier than waiting for the major indicators of thirst or hunger.
- Set up of equipment; using your equipment and setting up in a way that helps with movement patterns, application of strength, comfort, safety, etc.
Physical processes are mentally managed; you “think” about them or sense them, but they are not “mental” processes.
When we talk about mental processes, we refer to how you “handle” the training and racing. You should use physical process awareness to help judge what your body is doing and how to deal with the situations. For example, when things get hard physically, you need to employ mental processes to control yourself. Or if mishaps happen, and they will, you know how to control actions.
Mental processes include:
- Learning to train at the correct intensity to develop and maintain a healthy and efficient aerobic system;
- Using perceived effort as your reference, not relying on technology which can breakdown.
- Use your training intensity awareness to regulate race effort;
- Having learned what your body is doing and feeling at the different effort levels so you can control your race effort.
- Learn mantras, phrases, etc to help you push on or hold back.
- Visualise everything in training relating to racing – how you’ll start, transitions, cornering, etc;
- Visualise the undesirable too; google leaks, punctures, etc.
- Hope for the best but prepare for the worst!
Effort and Movement awareness overlap
Notice how awareness of effort and movement falls into each category? Being aware of these two areas is so important for performance; technology is not good enough or reliable enough to rely on. You NEED to start sensing your effort and movements if you want to achieve your outcomes.
Take responsibility / ownership for your training and processes. Commit to nurturing your awareness and management of them both so you can race optimally by being as prepared as you can be. Be courageous and commit to following your processes and don´t diverge when you hear of different “special” training methods or “short-cuts”.
Simply going through the motions when you train; not knowing what your limbs are doing, relying on technology to count your lengths, your strokes, your pace, to tell you if you are working hard enough, etc will NOT lead to optimum performance.
Neither will floating between training philosophies and training methods. Stick to your chosen approach for at least one season. Learn how it works for you, adapt and progress as you develop, then consider whether changing will really benefit you or its just to keep things entertaining!
There are no quick fixes or shortcuts, you MUST be patient – especially if you are someone who has focused on outcomes and NOT been aware of your body and movements. Accept that you must learn to listen to your body again.
Remain focussed on working the processes to build a resilience and toughness that allows the body to progress.
The longer you can do this the more improvements you will see. Great athletes NEVER just appear from obscurity, they have years of applying their own processes.
In part 2, we will look more closely at the physical and mental processes involved with triathlon.