“You never study for a test. You review for a test. Studying is what you do every day.” These were just some of the words of wisdom that my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Sciullo, dropped on his classes throughout his career. It’s a common theme throughout life. We hear about the all night study sessions for high school and college final exams. I myself had one or two all-nighters in college, but it wasn’t because I needed to cram in study time for an exam. They were because I ran out of time to write the final draft of a research paper. In short, I got lazy.
Last week I discussed what separates elites from amateurs and that is… Elites “do simple better,” and they “keep it stupid simple.” One of the easiest ways to begin doing simple better is to do the equivalent of studying every day. For my sport of triathlon that means consistent, high quality training in swim, bike and run. (We’ll discuss the “high quality” part of this in a separate post.)
My first triathlon was April of 2015. For the first two years of my triathlon dabbling I was consistently inconsistent. I’d occasionally have big weeks of training where I’d crank out massive yardage in the pool, have a long 70 plus mile bike ride on the weekend and also get in a 10 plus mile run. More often than not though I had many weeks of mediocre inconsistent training. Then in the two weeks leading upto a race I’d crank out some big sessions. In other words I was cramming for the test, not consistently studying every day. Somehow, even with this cram style training plan, I stumble bumbled my way to finishing an Ironman—much like how so many students who cram for their exams and pass.
Sure I was proud of my accomplishment. Finishing an Ironman isn’t easy. I knew I could do better though, but it wasn’t going to happen magically. Triathlon, more than most sports, is a sport that rewards consistent hard work. Beginning in 2017 I began taking steps toward studying every day. The first four months of the year I dedicated to improving my run since my first event of the year was the Boston Marathon. Once I was done with Boston I began consistently spending time on my bike trainer. After nearly every bike ride I spent 15-20 minutes running on the treadmill to get my legs used to that feeling of running off the bike. Then I added swimming back into the mix and began consistently swimming three or four times a week. In 2016, my build up to Ironman Boulder was marked by inconsistency with a long bike ride of more than 80 miles. In 2017, I was more consistent and my longest bike ride was just over 60 miles. However, my overall mileage was up. There was more in the bank from which to pull. At the end of 2017, I completed Ironman Arizona in 11:46:43 (4 hours and 28 seconds faster than I’d completed Ironman Boulder in 2016).
I went into 2018 with the goal of breaking 11 hours in an Ironman. I again chose Ironman Arizona. If I’d become consistent in 2017, then 2018 I became boarderline obsessed. I was very balanced across swim, bike and run training and rarely missed a workout. Because I was consistent in 2017 and 2018, that allowed my coach and I to also increase the volume of key workouts. In my build up to Ironman Arizona 2018 I had several 100 plus mile bike rides and numerous 20 mile runs. As a result of both consistency and big training sessions that allowed me to have an epic result at Ironman Arizona where I went 10:59:17.
Moving to the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has only reinforced the importance of consistency. The correct balance of consistent hard work with big blocks has resulted in positive results. However, I would not have had a successful 2019 without having had a consistent 2017 and 2018. Yes, it’s sexy and badass to have the massive 100 plus mile bike rides with 10000 ft of elevation gain. But those big days are not the reason behind why I continue to be successful and near the top of the podium at races. They certainly had their place in my training, but consistency above all else was the simplest way to make that jump from average triathlon or Ironman finisher to competing for podium sponts on the Paratriathlon ITU circuit.
I’ve spent a lot of time illustrating the importance of simplicity and consistency in my sport of triathlon, but these principles exist in all areas of our lives. Sure we here about the seemingly big splash successes, of the people winning the lottery, selling a company for millions or billions of dollars. Sometimes we get lucky but more often than not we make our own luck through consistent work. And contrary to what we might think, consistency is not easy. It gets easier especially once you see the success start to pile up, but in the beginning it’s really hard. Whether it’s starting and continuing to take money out of your paycheck and putting it into an investment account; or getting up every morning to workout; or practice a musical instrument; or what have you. The second hardest thing to do is get started, the hardest thing to do is become consistent. The simpler things are the easier it is to become consistent and the better you will become at doing the simple things.
Simplicity leads to consistency, which leads to quantity, which allows you to focus on quality. So for now I’ll leave you to think about how you can “consistently do simple better.” Remember the words of my high school chemistry teacher… “You never study for a test. You review for a test. Studying is what you do every day.”