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Endurance. Conditioning. Fortitude. Perseverance. Willpower.
When the word 'triathlon' is mentioned in polite conversation, the above qualities are most likely to be associated with the sport. With images of epic struggles on the lava fields of Hawaii seared into the collective subconscious, the popular view of the sport is that it is one prolonged exercise in prevailing against the odds and enduring massive suffering until the finish line is reached.
This is understandable since, with the exception of the avowed non-swimmers among us, almost everyone in the general population can run, ride a bicycle and swim - at some level. Most people see nothing particularly difficult in the disciplines involved; they see the challenge to be getting in good enough 'shape' to complete a triathlon, no matter the distance involved.
And, to be fair, that view is correct, if your only objective is to enter one race and finish it, say as the result of an ill considered bar bet. If your mouth has written a check that your body must now cash, it is a relatively simple matter to round up an old bike, invest six weeks or so in a 'training' program and struggle to the finish of a sprint distance triathlon.
To be sure, many are the committed triathletes who have come to the sport through just such a route. A funny thing can happen once you've got that first 'tri' under your belt. You suddenly start thinking about the next one - and how you can do it better. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is getting a better bike. After that, normal thoughts include new running shoes, perhaps joining a masters swim program and, of course, training harder.
Here's something else toadd to the list: learn to run, ride and swim!
If that sounds a little counter intuitive - it's meant to be. As mentioned above, just about everyone can run, ride and swim, but relatively few do all three well. However, most people think of these as endurance sports, not skill sports, so the natural inclination is to just go out and start training without regard for improving one's technical abilities in the three sports.
Unless you happen to be unnaturally gifted in all three, this approach is a one way ticket to a dead-end. Certainly, your times will improve and you will get stronger, but by not investing the time and effort to learn the proper technique for each discipline, you'll put a rather low ceiling on exactly how good you can get.
Consider for a moment the fact that newcomers are drawn to triathlon from a variety of backgrounds. Some may already excel in one or two of the sports and have been told by friends that they should give triathlon a try. Others may be looking for a transition from team sports to an individual sport, so that they can participate on their own schedule, instead of having practices and games dictated to them. And still others may have no real sports background at all and are looking for a mid-life challenge and change of direction.
Whatever the motivation, it's obvious that virtually no one comes to the sport of triathlon with a high degree of technical skill in each sport. Now if triathlon were comprised of tennis, golf and archery, the obvious first step would be to seek out lessons to master the techniques of each one. But since most people think they already know how to run, ride and swim and since they don't regard running, cycling and swimming as skill sports, they skip that crucial first stage, even though they obviously aren't technically proficient in all three sports.
The results of jumping right into a triathlon training regimen without first developing the necessary sport-specific skills can range from frustration and stagnation to overuse injuries and complete abandonment of the sport. From a coaching or teaching standpoint, this creates a two-fold challenge. The first is to communicate to new triathletes that there is a distinct need to achieve technical skills in running, cycling and swimming. The second is to present a program for achieving these proficiencies in a way that is accessible, digestible and time-efficient.
While triathlon is regarded as a lifetime sport, it is also true that most new triathletes are in a hurry. They're excited about their new undertaking and probably have already selected their first 'target' event even before lacing up their shoes for their first training run. While it can take years to achieve true mastery in any one of these three sports, these 'newbies' are more concerned about crossing their first finish line than in engaging in any systematic approach to truly mastering the sports.
So, in order to get them to learn first, compete later, the system of instruction has to reduce the normal learning curve from 'years' to 'months' or even 'weeks'. That's a tall order, particularly when you're dealing with three distinctly different sets of movements that must be mastered. We're dealing with true technique here, which, as you might imagine comes from the Greek word 'techno' - the skill of doing.
The first step in embarking on a triathlon-learning program is to accept that running, cycling and swimming techniques require the same approach as any other highly technical sport. To get the right mental framework you have to understand the theory, concepts and rules of the related movements and to develop the proper images, perception, mental, psychological and biomechanical structure of those movements in their most efficient execution.
In developing a teaching program for any sport, we first define 'skill' as the ability to use all available resources to reach the desired goal. Achieving these skills requires the athlete to follow a system of drills to build the proper biomechanical movements and to correct errors in those movements against an existing standard. In short, the athlete has to think, feel and act in one logical way or system.
This system is based on the rather simple assumption that all movements in all sports - including running, cycling and swimming - consist of a series of positions or poses through which the athlete moves with every repetition. Essentially, if you are going to do the same thing over and over and over again, it makes sense to be able to do it perfectly.
More importantly, within these frames of repetitive movements, there are a few specific poses that affect the creation and flow of movement. Identifying these specific poses is the critical element in understanding and performing efficient movement. These Pose positions have distinctive and specific features (Fig.1.1) that are the key to becoming more skillful in your chosen sport.