I was sitting by the side of the pool speaking with my old Coach Wes Hobson before my usual Friday masters swim-a-thon.
Wes likes to coach Masters the old school way so he gives long sets on just about impossible intervals.
For instance last week, after a hefty warm-up, we swam the main set of:
- 3/three hundreds
- 4/two hundreds
- 5/one hundreds
- 10/twenty fives in about 45 minutes on some pretty tight rest periods.
I mention this only because I like to chat with Wes before I jump in the pool in a futile attempt to put off the pounding I know I'll soon get from his main set.
It was at one of these procrastination chats a few years ago that I happened to mention to Wes that I was amazed by an incredible bike split time I saw at the Ironman World Championships. A former pro cyclist, and one time teammate of Lance Armstrong (I apologize but I forget his name now), had switched to triathlon and put down a blazing bike split in Kona.
He came out of the water a ways behind the leaders and within an hour or so he caught up and and passed most of them to finish the second leg of the race with a blazing fast bike split. As you might suspect he blew up on the run and that was the last I ever heard of him.
When I told Wes that I was amazed at how fast he was on the bike, and how painful it was to watch him explode on the run, Wes just looked at me with a steady and honest gaze and said, "That's why they call it a triathlon!"
This may seem like a pretty snarky remark but Wes said it with total logic and conviction. He was not being sarcastic or funny. Instead, he was just stating an obvious fact that many of his athletes (and when you think about it many of us) constantly forget.
Let me explain.
Have you ever hit the wall running a marathon?
Perhaps the reason was that you did not train enough, or get your nutrition right, or did not train in the same weather conditions (think heat) that prevailed on race day. Instead, like many of us, you trained early in the morning when it was cool, or missed some of your long runs, or ignored your hydration and nutrition strategy.
If you were running a 5K or 10K race this would not be a problem. Most likely you could even get away with cutting corners during a half marathon but...and think about it...that's why the call it a marathon.
You can't cut corner's and you can't fake your way past mile 18 unless you happen to be a very genetically gifted African runner. And even then I'm not sure you would have the best race after about mile 18 or so.
Let me give you another example.
I have a friend who is an exceptional athlete. He can easily run a sub six minute mile for hours on end. He can bike with the best of them so why was I so surprised when he came out of the water at this weekend's Boulder 5430 long course triathlon almost in last place.
Because like many of us he made the classic mistake of training his strength and racing his weakness instead of training his weakness and racing his strength.
As Wes would say..."that's why they call it a triathlon.'
You just can't get away with being great in two of the three sports, just like you can't get cut corners running a marathon.
I think that's why the longer endurance sports have such a strong appeal to many of us older athletes. They provide a real test, a come to God moment if you will, for many of us.
Either you've done the work to really succeed, or you haven't. It's the one lesson that many of us try to teach our kids when it comes to life.
There is no easy way to fudge the results, there is no legal way to cheat, there is no short cut to success and just in case you still have doubts...there is no such thing as a Sprint Triathlon.
There's only long hours in the pool, on the bike, and in water.
And that's why they call it a triathlon!