Pick the top three male triathletes of this generation, and it’d be hard to argue against Alistair Brownlee, Javier Gomez and Jan Frodeno. Here are six great lessons we can all learn from these world class athletes
As a columnist for 220Triathlon magazine, I’ve watched these three develop into masters of multisport over the last decade, and while their exceptional performances are about being able to swim, bike and run faster than their rivals, they display some other key traits which we can all learn from.
Lessons from the world’s greatest triathletes: Jan Frodeno
Lesson 1: peaking to perfection
Frodeno proved he can peak to perfection when he won the 2008 Olympic title in Beijing. Despite plenty of near misses, the German hadn’t won a single top level race before lining up in China, but timed his sprint finish to perfection.
You can’t control what happened in the past or even what happens today, but you can control your reactions to those events. Keep focus like Frodeno to peak perfectly for your biggest challenges.
Lesson 2: adaptability
Moving to Ironman racing in 2014, Frodeno quickly realised that to be successful he’d need to combine his speed over the short distance, with strength for the long haul.
His first year showed promise but was hamstrung by cramping on the run. A second place in the Ironman 70.3 championships and a third in Hawaii, was followed by wins in both the following summer.
By 2016, he had the distance so dialled in, he would set the fastest time ever of 7hr 35min 39sec.
Be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. Work on the areas where you can make the biggest gains and give yourself time to develop.
Lesson 2: work your weaknesses. Don’t like the triathlon swim? Then it’s time to swim more
Lessons from the world’s greatest triathletes: Javier Gomez
Lesson 3: consistency
When Javier Gomez races, you know he’s going to be at the pointy end. From 112 starts in International Triathlon Union racing, the Spaniard achieved 78 podiums, with 43 of those being on the top step. It’s some palmares and includes a record five world titles, in an era when he had to compete against both Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.
How has he done it?
With serene composure that means he always races calmly and within himself, understanding that a lot can happen on a race course and that in any endurance event, you should let the race come to you.
To channel your inner Gomez, don’t sweat the small stuff on race day. Stay patient and rely on your underlying fitness to shine through.
Lesson 3: sh*t happens, take it in your stride to stay consistent on race day
Lesson 4: technique
I also forgot to mention Gomez's three World Cup series titles, four European crowns, two Ironman 70.3 world championships and even an XTERRA (cross-country) triathlon world title.
These feats have been achieved in different time zones, all over the world, and part of the reason for Gomez’s run of success, is his lack of injury.
How has he stopped his body breaking down?
Through great biomechanics, and through honing his technique to perfection. Whether on the swim, bike or run, Gomez looks flawless, there’s not an ounce of energy wasted.
Details matter, particularly in endurance - focusing on technique and constantly refining it, while also keeping on top of your strength and flexibility work is at the heart of many happy years in all endurance sports.
Lesson’s from the world’s greatest triathletes: Alistair Brownlee
Lesson 5: attitude
The Yorkshire flyer is an unprecedented two-time Olympic triathlon champion, but it’s his 2008 Olympic debut in Beijing that marks out the fear-free mindset that’s made him a peerless competitor.
Despite being just 20 years old, and qualifying late on for the competition, he tells the tale of looking around on the starting pontoon that day and realising that while it might be the biggest triathlon race in the world, his opposition was no different from normal.
From there he gave it a real shot, even leading on the run, before his lack of conditioning through youth caught up with him - and his attitude hasn’t changed since.
While hard work is essential for performance, self-belief is the catalyst for turning good to great. As automobile legend Henry Ford said, “whether you believe you can, or you can’t - you’re right”.
Lesson 6: tactics
It’s tactics time - plot, plan and strategise your way to victory
If Brownlee isn’t winning Olympic gold, then he’s injured. Or returning from injury. At least that’s how it seems.
Which all in, make his achievements of the past decade (he’s been double world champion, double Commonwealth champion and triple European champion, while winning over 50% of his races) all the more remarkable.
How has he done this?
Increasingly, by being smart tactically.
If his hips, calf or Achilles, let him down on occasion, then the brain just becomes all the sharper to take up the slack.
His injuries have hit hardest on the run, meaning he’s had to come up with race plans to forge a breakaway on the swim then bike, putting him in a stronger position by the time he’s most vulnerable to attack.
It’s worked more times that it should, and Brownlee has often topped the podium in races he had no right to win.
Race planning is everything, and if you’re struggling with undertraining, illness or injury, analyse the race ahead and see how you can best play to your strengths while giving your weaknesses every helping hand possible.
As American author Seth Godin puts it:
“Most people spend their time in defence, playing with the cards they have instead of moving to a different table, with different cards”.
If your cards aren’t looking good, is there another table you can move to?
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