The value of hard work

One of the questions I frequently have to answer as a coach is the following ‘can you make me faster, faster?’ It invariably leaves me a bit puzzled because I start wondering why is it so important for improvements to happen instantly. Of course, those who know me won’t miss the irony of my saying this, given my impatient nature. However, when it comes to sport, I thoroughly enjoy the actual preparation, and the process of improving.

Instant gratification has been a societal accelerating trend over the last few years, and I am convinced that it makes us focus on the wrong thing, and blatantly misleads people (in all aspects of life). When it comes to athletic performance, losing weight, shaping up, getting fitter, whatever you want to call it, we are inundated with ridiculous commercials: lose 6in of belly fat with just 3 times 10 minutes a week of product ‘A’; improve your running economy while running less with product ‘B’; etc. You never (or rarely) see a commercial or an ad saying: work hard, work for many years, and you will improve, and enjoy the simple process of getting better.

The little triathlon community jumped on the ‘HTFU’ acronym, and quickly turned it into an ongoing joke: how can I improve my 5km time? HTFU. It’s raining and I have to ride on the trainer, what should I do? HTFU. Swimming is tough and I don’t seem to get better. HTFU. My own athletes will laugh at this because I’ve used it on multiple occasions. But truth is, it often IS the right answer. There is just NO SHORT CUT for hard, consistent work. How do you get better at swimming, cycling, or running? It’s simple. You swim, bike, and run a lot. You’re consistent. You focus on what you do. And you start realizing that what matters is to actually get better, at your own pace. Of course, the content of the sessions, the planning, etc do matter, but the sine qua none conditions to improving are consistency and hard work.

A practical example of this was started by accelerate3 coach, Brian Stover on slowtwitch. With the premise that many triathletes want to run faster (it seems we can’t just buy running speed unlike cycling), Brian created the simplest running plan ever: want to run faster? Simple! Run 50mi per week for 12 weeks straight! The content matters. Somewhat. But for the vast majority, it will pay hugely. Of course, you need to take this with a grain of salt. If you’ve never run more than 15mi per week, then try 30mi per week for 12 weeks. Although…start at 15, go up to 50 slowly but surely, and then do 12 weeks at 50mi. You get the idea. The same is true for swimming and cycling. Practice does make perfect. And, to be clear: sure Kenyans have longer lighter limbs, but the main reason for their running superiority is that they just run more. A lot more. My friend Olaf likes to quote Lao Tzu: the goal is the way. Focus on being consistent. Focus on repetition. Focus on making tedious tasks become easy habits. Focus on the process of getting better, rather than goal times. And you may surprise yourself, going way beyond what you thought you were capable of.

Who’s up for the 50mi per week challenge?

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