Tri Coach Tuesday: Failure Is Mandatory

by Coach AJ Johnson, D3Multisport


As a coach, I certainly don’t want my athletes to fail at their A priority race, but I do want them to fail in other races. While that may sound counter-productive, failure is where you learn the most. So when I talk about failure, I don’t mean it in the traditional sense, I mean it as a way to see what you are truly capable of.


I’ll use my own racing experience as an example. I was not particularly strong in any one discipline, rather, it was my calculated approach to racing that helped me reach the top 10 in my age group in Kona. I never hammered the bike, or took off on the early portion of the run and ended up blowing up and having to walk. I always had the finish line in mind and metered my effort accordingly. I liked to think that I was racing smart, and I was.


However, while pacing was my strong suit, it was also my weakness because it never allowed me to fully explore how fast I could go. To me, blowing up was a failure, and I wasn’t willing to risk failing in my own sense. In hindsight, I should have chosen some B priority races to find out where the edge of my fitness was and pushed the bike to the limit, or gone out of T2 like a rocket. I never did and if there is any regret in my career, it’s that I didn’t take that risk.


So, look at your own racing to identify what is holding you back. It may not be your fitness, it may be your own pacing strategy, your inattention to nutrition, your lack of mental toughness or something else. For example, many athletes I have coached have told me, “I have to push the bike because I’m not a runner.” My response has always been, “Have you ever held back on the bike and given yourself a chance to run well?”


This is a perfect example of how you can take a risk during a B priority race to see how you can reach your optimum performance. I have athletes choose a B priority event of the same distance as their A priority race and pace the bike a little more conservatively than normal. This allows them to potentially nail the run, which then opens their minds to other strategies of reaching their peak performance.


For some, it can be hard to get past the idea of not using their strength during a race. But it is by addressing your perceived weakness that you find your true limits. After following my advice about holding back on the bike, many athletes have said, “I never knew I could run that well.” This gives them new confidence and a whole new card to play during their A priority race.


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