Finding the Excellent

by Cherie Gruenfeld
Ironman Age Group World Champion

When I worked in the business world, we had a term to describe a person who was pretty good at what he did but had no clue as to why. The term was: Unconscious Competent. He works by instinct and gets the job done. He’s considered competent – not great – and he rarely realizes his full potential because he has no idea how to improve his performance – to turn competent into truly excellent.

I’ve been a part of the triathlon community for a lot of years and one thing I’m fairly certain about is that most of us want desperately to get better. We don’t want competent. We want to find “the excellent”.

 

Can you park your ego and put yourself in an uncomfortable position where you may not make the podium, but you’ll come out the other end smarter?

 

How does one go about this search for excellence? It starts by doing a personal evaluation of what we do well and where we could improve. Right now it’s the off-season for most of us, a very good time to lay the groundwork for a breakthrough season. And here’s the good news: It starts with an exercise that you can do while sitting on your butt. (Am I on to something, or what?)

This personal assessment need not be shared with anyone, which should encourage you to be brutally honest as you evaluate your areas of strength and those you consider to be holding you back, or the workouts you do because they’re fun and those you avoid because, well, they aren’t fun. The key is to ask yourself tough questions to sort out where you need to put your focus and then build a plan that addresses those needs and pushes you through to the next level.

To help you get started on this personal assessment, here are a few areas you might want to give some thought to:


Race Selection

I recently read a piece where Tim DeBoom spoke to the top male American Ironman triathletes, asking why they didn’t head over to Europe during the summer and race against the guys who were getting ready for Kona by racing against other top players. Why meet them for the first time in the season at the World Championships? His point was: Go learn from the best.

Are you picking races based on your ability to place high in the results or are you going to the majors where you’ll meet those who are currently “big dogs” in the game? Can you park your ego and put yourself in an uncomfortable position where you may not make the podium, but you’ll come out the other end smarter?

 

Do you find yourself using these excuses while swimming the same old routine you’ve been swimming? How’s that working for you?


Race Frequency

How do you decide when to race? Is your race schedule planned to help get you prepared for an “A” race or do you race a lot of races just because they sound fun or everyone else is doing it? Do you seek out races that will play to your strengths or challenge your weaknesses? Are your races well timed for plenty of recovery before an important event?

Different people handle the stress of racing differently. Think your plan through carefully.

Strava Addiction   WHAT IS STRAVA?   We should define it…

Do you alter your course and the way you ride in an attempt to garner another KOM/QOM?

Do you ride for a Strava goal more often than you hunker down on a long solo ride, building a strong mind as you work against personal goals such as power, pacing, negative splits, etc.?

There’s certainly room for both – are you giving each the appropriate focus that will translate to success on the race course?

Masters Swim or Solo Laps

“Doesn’t work with my schedule.”

“Too many people crowding the lane.”

“Don’t like drills.”

Do you find yourself using these excuses while swimming the same old routine you’ve been swimming? How’s that working for you?

How Physically Strong Are You?

A distance race, such as an Ironman or 70.3, is more about being strong than being fast. If you have the body strength to hold a constant pace throughout and to push it into the next gear when necessary, this will translate into speed.

Do you have a strength program? Does it get as much emphasis as it should? Do you focus on hills on the bike and run? Do you have a plan for building and maintaining a strong core?

Satisfied With Your Run Off the Bike?

I have only one thing to offer here:  Unless you look like Mirinda Carfrae when you run (nobody does) and you’re able to gain back 15 minutes from your competitors on the run (few of us can), you have some work to do on the run.

Break it down: Is it a head thing? Is your technique efficient? Do you fall apart in the final miles? Do you lose the will to suffer?

Your goal may not be to run like Rinny (not many can), but you certainly can improve with focus on specific areas where you’re weak.

Spend plenty of time digging deep with questions such as these, looking for answers to what’s working and what’s holding you back. Take the data you’ve mined from this exercise and build a plan to address your weaknesses or talk to a coach who will build the plan for you.

Then get off your butt and start the work. Sometimes it won’t be as much fun as the group rides or chasing a Strava title, but nothing is as satisfying as finding the excellent!

Good luck

Cherie