During what has been an extremely difficult year for us all, top-level sport has (like many of us) gone through the motions of uncertainty and disappointment. This has placed additional pressure on professional athletes who have struggled to structure their training and plan for the success they wish to achieve.
In this, the final edition of our Winter Riding Series with Helen Jenkins, Helen discusses the personal struggles she has had and gives guidance on remaining optimistic and planning your own success.
"In a ‘normal’ year, I and my husband/coach, Marc, would have a break after the race season. Everyone needs a break to recharge and reset!
This would give us some much-needed downtime even though we generally carry-on riding, swimming, and running with hopefully the majority of time spent surfing or in the sea somewhere warm. It’s an opportunity to clear the mind and reflect on the season. What went well? What could be improved? Any activity in this period is simply exercise and not targeted training. There is no goal to aim for - other than having a good time."
"We would then choose the big goals for the next year, the 'A' races (generally we would have two, a max of three), and then the other races that fit around them. This provides us with a framework to plan training and racing around. The detail of my training is not specifically planned until a week or two before, but the general goal of the week would be set long in advance. As an example, we know that the two weeks before the big race of the year will be race prep; we know that in late December, early Jan the focus starts to ramp up a bit towards the early season and there is a shift in intensity. That sort of stuff."
"To be honest - I love a plan! Ultimately, I train better with one. I am organised by nature, so it suits me to know what I am doing in advance. Yet, the biggest lesson I have learned in my career is that you have to be adaptable. It’s great to have a plan but you have to be able to change it, modify your approach to your current situation. Stuff comes up, injuries, work, family – dare I even mention COVID. No problems but the general stuff that means your well-laid plan might need to deviate.The last year has been the biggest lesson ever in planning and adapting! A plan is only effective if it has flexibility."
"If you want to plan for your own success it takes some thinking, reflection, and research. What is success to you? Is it a race goal or an overall fitness goal? Could it even be to recover from an injury? This last one is the hardest – trust me, I talk from experience. It’s not performance-based and you have to change the objective here, it’s not about getting better at this stage but about getting to a point where you can train with a goal of racing in mind vs the goal of being able to train either pain-free or at a low, stable level of pain.
A problem with a lot of busy people is accountability, having someone looking over your shoulder helps with that but also helps you reflect on what you’ve done. Sometimes when I don’t think I’ve done well, having a coach reflect on actually what we set out to achieve helps and keeps it positive which is hugely important."
A few examples of goals for me are ...
Success - Return to racing this year, over several distances (Super League Arena Games - very short distance, Olympic distance up to 70.3 half Ironman distance and longer)
Success - Comfortable in time-trial position (it is a work in progress)
Success - Fewer injuries through a consistent strength and conditioning program
Success - Enjoying the process. Sometimes I am so focused on my goal, or achieving a certain time/pace/power in a session I forget to enjoy what I’m doing.
I find it’s important for me to have some goals or plans which are not related to racing or have a specific target.
We are all so different so finding what motivates you and drives you is the key to your success.
Write it down, discuss it with coach, partner, family, and friends – give yourself more accountability.
Make a note on your phone or old-fashioned pen and paper. Get it down and commit. Success won’t happen unless you are committed to it.
It’s all well and good planning, but you then have to stay motivated and committed to achieving your goals and plans. You stand on a start line and if doubt creeps in and you know you’ve missed weeks and months with very little commitment, it’s likely not going to be a positive enjoyable day or a good outcome.
Here are some tips I have learned over the years:
• Build good habits - In normal times I swim early in the morning. A session from 5.30 till 7 am and I wake up at 4.55. If I overthink getting up it is so much harder. I’m in the habit of getting up early so I just stick to it. Ten mins of Pilates, core work in the evening in front of the tv - by the end of the day I want to lie still and do nothing, but ten minutes seems manageable, and although I don’t do it every night I am getting better.
• Get good advice - There is so much advice out there. Open any cycling, triathlon, running magazine, website, Twitter, Instagram and there will be experts telling you everything you need to do. The advice is probably sound, but it is impossible to do all of it. Filter the info, find something that works for you. I like to read about training and sport as I genuinely find it interesting, it is what I love to do but I have to stick to my plan and process set by my coach. Knowing is never a bad thing as it helps us to question, challenge, and keep improving.
• Things go wrong, it doesn’t mean it’s all over - We push our bodies to the limit and beyond. That’s the whole point of training and achieving your best, so your body might ‘break’ and you might be injured. It is the recovery and learning from mistakes that help us to grow as athletes.
• The little things are sometimes the most important things – Swim, bike and run faster. If I want to do this, I need to be able to train. Gym and pre-hab are critical.
• Find good training partners and surround yourself with positive people - Some people are drains - their negative mood, expectations, and outlook can bring you and your training down. The best training partners are ones who time flies with, you head out for a ride, and before you know it your 3 hours in.
• Have distractions outside of work and sport – Make time in the day/week that you have headspace away from training/work. All work and training over a long period can fatigue us, down-time and recovery are equally as important to make improvements.
• Find good physios/ massage therapists - Build a relationship with them where you can get in to see them asap if needed. It can be quite hard to find a good physio and therapist. I would always look for recommendations from other sporty friends. A physio practice may have a stronger leaning towards sports than others, so look for physios who have a treadmill set up, or links with podiatry.