As most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are departing from the off-season and in the midst of building our base for the upcoming year, the notion of addressing your limitations is frequently discussed. This concept of improving the weak link of your racing repertoire during this period has been popularized by Joe Friel and is a common suggestion by many coaches.
The concept is certainly not unique to triathlon. Success in most endeavors requires a balanced portfolio of skills specific to the arena that one is competing. In my early days of golf, I wanted to improve my short game so I began hitting golf balls into a bucket from 40 yards away for hours at a time…in later off-seasons I devoted more time to working on my long irons. (I think it was Chi Chi Rodriquez that commented on long iron play by saying “Even God can’t hit a 2 iron”. Didn’t stop me from trying my best to master that skill.) Each off-season was committed to working on a perceived weakness.
Though the concept of improving your weaknesses is straightforward, identifying the skill that needs the most attention may not be as obvious. Though it may seem that comparing your swim/bike/run times to the field’s times and deeming which one is the slowest is the way to determine your limiter, I suggest that this art is more complicated than that. For instance, though it may be obvious that “swimming” is the weak link in your battery of skills, it may not be the most important skill to improve to attain your goals. For example, if your goal is to qualify for Hawaii and you can get out of the water in 1:10 and your biking 5:30, then your likely better off working on gaining time on the bike as this constitutes a larger portion of the day. Yes, spending time on the swim is still important, but cranking up your swim yardage to 30,000 meters/week is less likely to benefit you as much as 2 additional 2-hour sessions on the bike. On the other hand, if you are racing short course and coming out in the lead swim group allows you to ride with the front group and exit T2 with a chance on the run, then the extra swim work makes perfect sense.
This discussion is a worthwhile one to have with your coach or someone who has personal knowledge of your abilities. I think one area often overlooked is an improvement in a weak mental game. An improved mental approach can be beneficial in many ways and beyond simple gains in swim/bike and run technique. In my upcoming blog, I will hit on a few mental processes that I find useful.
If you get a chance, check out the boys at Epic Camp. I would highly suggest this pursuing this opportunity in future editions if it sounds in the least appealing. The experience far outweighs any specific fitness gains you might receive.
Keep on training.