The following figure represents what it takes to improve your half iron time from 6:05 to 4:10 and what it takes to go from a middle of the pack triathlete to the Kona starting line. This is my “life histogram”. That is, my weekly training volume over the past 8 years.
I think too many athletes don’t have the patience, willingness to make sacrifices, or the time to allow this progression to unfold. Too many try to increase volume or intensity too quickly and/or have unrealistic expectations of what it actually takes to reach their goals. The purpose of this figure is to show what it takes for someone who was not born fast to become fast. Some things to take away from it:
1) You’ll notice I never took more than 3-4 weeks each year totally off (with a minimum of 3). This allowed me to build upon each year’s fitness level without becoming too out of shape each year. Many people make this mistake and take all year just to get back to their previous fitness level. A good rule of thumb is that is takes 3 times the duration you took off to get back to where you were in terms of fitness.
2) A fairly linear, gradual build up in volume without any major acute increases. Many people make this mistake and end up injured or sick.
3) Never a missed week following the 3 week break each year. This was made possible by using sensible training techniques & very detailed periodization planning which never had me sidelined with injury or sickness.
All of this allowed extreme consistency over an 8 year period. In addition to this figure was also an unrelenting focus on diet which allowed my weight to decrease from 195+ down to 155 over this period. Of course this weight decrease also helped performance but the majority of 2002-2005 was spent racing at 160-170 where I made good progress with racing speed.
A couple of other interesting things to note:
1) I didn’t race IM until I met about 2/3 of critical volume which is about 20 hours at my speed at that time. This helped me have a good experience and a 10:09 my first time out….also my IM worst to date.
2) The average improvement in race performance is about 2.5% per year….consistently.