Are you continually ‘breaking down’ late into your race, or are you slowing down significantly towards the back end?
Well you’re not alone.
A helluva lot of athletes will succumb to muscular fatigue late into the race, EVEN when they’re aerobically highly conditioned…
You might have or be putting in the hours and have had great single long sessions which on paper seems to be great race indicators but are actually a false economy.
Why is that?
Motor skills are critical because the training limiters and thus performance limiters of most athletes is neuromuscular and not aerobic.
If we look at a lot of top performers they almost always have a background. No one comes from nowhere. They might not have a big background in triathlon but if we dig a little, we will see they typically have a background in a sport and have spent a lot of time, even a lifetime developing skills, strength and speed.
Contrast that when today we have a lot of adults coming into the sport with poorly developed aerobic systems. They may have done sports at an earlier age, but after school they may have dabbled with fitness here and there while developing their career and have effectively become “couch potatoes”. That is ok but what we see is that many of these athletes have goals that are at odds with their current abilities. There is a distinct lack of patience to not just develop their aerobic fitness but do it so in conjunction with skills, strength, mobility.
A big problem is we are sold into the ‘need’ for follow a system that is all about the numbers. I need to see my power numbers or I need to see my heart rate … this need for instantaneous feedback creates an illusion that they are getting fitter or as I said above – are getting great race indicators because they’re making numbers or staying within some ‘zone’ for extended periods of time!
Sadly it becomes an expensive illusion.
What we see is athletes having no real problem in finishing an Ironman as aerobic endurance is extremely easy to develop, but placing such a huge emphasis on aerobic volume is why we see athletes continually disappointed with their races. They just haven’t spent the time developing the specific strengths and highly important motor skills that allow them not to breakdown in the latter stages of the race.
If you want to race … then you need to be asking: How you optimally combine sport-specific skills with maximal aerobic conditioning.
You do so with a soundly structured plan that helps you acquire maximal aerobic conditioning while not sacrificing but also acquiring the sport-specific motor skills, strength and speed that are foundations of exceptional performance.
I’ll repeat it because it is worth repeating – in Ironman and 70.3 Triathlon an emphasis on the development of motor skills is even more crucial because the training limiters and thus performance limiters are neuromuscular and not aerobic.
When you train you shouldn’t be focusing on just developing your aerobic fitness but building your speed and focusing on developing your strength. The goal is to program a highly specific motor skills into the big red meat computer that is your body. We can and do program performance through repetition of these highly specific motor skills and creative effectiveness through learning to maintain form under duress.
But you have to be willing to learn to perform the movements under increasing levels of intensity – your goal race intensity being the most critical.
Those that can push hard in the back end of each discipline and not slow down have programmed the ability to perform the specific movements (keep the stroke rate while holding technique in the swim, keeping the muscles firing strongly on the bike when fatigued and being able to keep your stride rate high on the run) at increasing levels of intensity. This is the goal of the repetitive approach.
So motor skill development is really all about the neuromuscular system. The beauty about training this system is that you can do it while training any of the other systems (speed, strength, tolerance and endurance) which makes training highly efficient. The neuromuscular system tires easily (but also recovers quickly) at first but becomes easy and over time those skills will happen subconsciously and automatically.
In the swim we can use tools effectively – a pull buoy will help better body positioning (especially for the less skilled swimmer) allowing focus on improving stroke. We can also use paddles that not only develop strength, but depending on the shape of the paddle will improve stroke.
On the bike, what’s important is the ability to continually recruit muscles and ride in control. Having your bike fit properly will improve your cycling form more then technique drills ever will and learning to push bigger gears at a lower cadence will not only help you ride strong in the back end of the bike leg but also spare your run legs.
And for the run – triathlon running is all about the ability to run fast (relative) on tired legs. To develop that, I highly advise that you develop a high stride rate as opposed to lengthening your stride. All efficient and effective runners have a stride rate in the 90’s in all their runs.
There you have it. Focus on developing your motor skills then learn to apply them under aerobic stress. That is … form under ever increasing levels of duress and you’ll improve your triathlon performances out of sight.
It’s why our Ironman Blueprints do so well.