DON’T Smash it!
This is advice I frequently give to swimmers in the squad and to (mainly) inexperienced triathletes that I coach in preparation for a key conditioning session and sometimes even for a race. Why is a ‘smash it’ mentality counter productive for a speed endurance athlete?
Surely an athlete wants to ‘smash’ their PB’s, ‘smash’ their competitors, ‘smash’ the course, conditions and themselves in training or racing?
Think about it. You invest time, energy, effort, patience to build your aerobic endurance, muscular strength, pace awareness and hone your technique into an impressive athlete ‘project in progress’ or finished article at your ‘A’ race. Many months go into this process. Then in one session or race, try and smash it?! Extreme contrasts in physical conditioning will rarely yield expected or exceptional results. A ‘smash it’ mentality is counter productive for endurance athletes due to the aim of extreme speed or effort, which inevitably is not sustainable. PB’s and podium performances are a consistent result of learning to pace correctly! Note the consistent bit… That is what = ongoing improvement over a season/ training block/ in medium to long term.
Sustainable effort is the difference between good and great performances. Take a look at world class endurance athlete time splits over the duration of their events. Elite and experienced athletes will actually finish stronger towards the end of a race, as a negative split or in delivering a sprint finish. To prevail at the performance end of the scale, the athlete needs to be able to strongly sustain their race pace, effort or approach. Each of these factors is important, however mindset is often the prevailing significant factor influencing the physical performance delivery. Investing the work in training and then selecting the wrong approach or mindset can literally blow your race right out of the water!
As an endurance swimmer or multisport triathlete, key factors are required to manage energy. Being calm, focused (even relaxed), with a considered approach based on experience of sustainable pace in training for the goal or race distance. Literally the opposite of ‘smashing’! Practicing in training and applying strategy to race execution allows the athlete to reduce the anxiety, nerves and lack of experience that leads to this counter productive mindset. I recall the final moments waiting on the pontoon to start in Lausanne at the World Championships 2006, feeling the calmest I had ever felt before a major international race. Despite questioning whether maybe I was too relaxed, I went on to deliver a winning performance and it ‘almost’ felt easy. Being well conditioned, able to judge your individual sustainable speed and focusing on the process facilitates the ability to deliver your best possible performance. Increasingly so, if you are racing over +2 hours.
Athletes who need to overtly psyche themselves up will quite often be the ‘crash and burners’ on race day, unable to work out why they couldn’t hold pace and/ or fade towards the end of their event or a key training conditioning set. In a typical post-race debrief or session review with the athlete, there may be many variables to blame (nutrition, hydration, conditions, mechanical/ technical failure, cramp) and nearly always pacing won’t figure in there. Adjusting the mindset issue, focusing on the process of execution, staying ‘in the moment’ will assist the athlete in performing at their potential. A ‘smash it’ mentality can indicate the athlete is a bit too focused on the outcome rather than balancing with the expected workload, what has to be done / the process.
Carefully build the best version of yourself in athletic terms and challenge yourself to deliver the best possible performance on the day it matters. Then recover and not be in pieces or ‘broken’ to repeat this process again. The ability to fine tune and keep improving is then inherent to the process rather than getting into a ‘boom and bust’ cycle, which is, quite frankly (yawn), boring!
Thanks to Simon Griffiths of H20pen magazine, one of our Lane 1 squad swimmers, for his take on this coaching advice and example of perfectly paced split times over a 1500m swim event. You can find his Editor blog on this link
Sun Yang’s 50m splits during the 1500m final and the 400m at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona