Sunday, January 31, 2016

The System

After watching thousands of triathlons and literally hundreds of ironmans over the years from every different perspective there is one thing that has always stood out to me -- from the professional ranks right down to the very last finisher on every different type of course you can imagine.

Everyone goes into their long distance race (especially ironman) and envisions it being a fast, exciting day. What I’ve noticed is the people who do well are the ones who have truly come to grips with the reality these races are long and, in terms of real speed, not that fast. They’ve accepted there will be discomfort and it will be a day of management and problem solving. Athletes who are calm and can adapt to anything will do well.

I usually see the ones who achieve their goals come with what I like to call their "system.” We’ve all seen the extreme case of it: that athlete who is bent over from exhaustion and can no longer stand up straight but has developed a way to get to the finish. Or the athlete who has that funny walk/shuffle but seems to be getting there at a good pace. This are examples of a "system.” Those athletes come up with something that they can repeat step after step and get themselves to that finish as fast as their bodies will allow. They’ve accepted its hard, they’ve come up with a way to solve the problem at hand and are moving forward to their goal: the finish.

I find that when all hell breaks lose, if you don’t have a system of your own, one good way is to count. Here is an example: I had an athlete in a race who towards the end of the marathon was seized by horrific cramps. This was a fast athlete, but full of cramps they were brought to a screaming halt. Panic and emotion set in. As a coach when I saw she had lost the thought to quickly adapt and work a new system I gave them one. I said, “Jog five steps, walk five steps. Count! Five and five and repeat!" The athlete stopped focusing on the cramps, stopped focusing on the pace and place that had slipped away and was now only thinking one thing: Walk… 1… 2… 3… 4… 5... Jog… 1… 2… 3… 4... 5… Repeat. I saw this athlete carry on to the finish in a good system. Even to where she moved to jog 10 and walk 5.

Ironman is full of unexpected challenges. It's a long day. We know that when we sign up. That's literally what we sign up for. We don’t do anything else an entire day from 4 a.m. to midnight and expect for everything to go smooth. Our daily lives are filled with small challenges and problems solving situations. The difference is we don’t think anything of it. When was the last time you drove to work and hit every single green light. We wouldn't leave the house expecting that. We expect we will likely hit some red lights along the way. We plan for that. Somehow when we go into an ironman we now suddenly expect that everything is going to go perfect today. The reality is, it's like any other day that you chose to spend doing sports outdoors; you are likely going to need to adapt and solve problems out there at some point.

Get your system in your mind and be ready to adopt a new one on the fly on race day.


Marilyn Chychota has been in elite sport since the age of 9, from show jumping to cycling and triathlon. Competing on an international stage in all three sports with an Ironman title, several podiums and state championships in cycling, Marilyn works with all distance and level of triathletes and cyclists. From beginners to elites; short course, bike racing, stage racing and long course triathlon, she has guided several athletes to the podium and to Hawaii qualifications.
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