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Making Luck

By Tom Demerly

This USA Triathlon Multisport Lab article is presented by

David Sanders
Have you ever known an athlete afflicted by everything from bee stings to forgotten equipment, bike crashes, blisters and missed wave starts? Bad luck seems to follow them. If something can go wrong, it does for them.

The opposite is the athlete who races and trains like an accountant. Everything is tabulated, check listed, prepared and re-checked. For them preparation and racing is a well-charted movement from point A to point B. Organized athletes experience a lower level of anxiety and spend less mental energy worrying.

One of the greatest performance coaches ever, author Steven Covey of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People coined the phrase “sphere of influence.” Covey was teaching the ability to separate the things we can control from the things we cannot. He emphasized the importance of focusing on things within our sphere of influence, the things we can exert control over. For the athlete that means meticulous attention to details of hydration, nutrition and equipment. It means knowing the exact route a race course takes before you ever arrive at the venue. It means occupying yourself with every detail you can control and ignoring the ones you cannot.

The magical synergy that emerges from this approach is that suddenly everything seems to go your way. You arrive at the race venue more rested. You rest better knowing your equipment has been checked in advance. You know your shoes won’t give you blisters because you tried them thoroughly in training before race day. Your race unfolds in a controlled use of energy with no surprises. Suddenly you’re at the finish line and it somehow all magically came together.

The key ingredient to optimal performance is planning. Having a USA Triathlon coach help you with planning provides you with a formally trained and certified perspective. Your coach brings the experience of many athletes to their recommendations, a perspective difficult for one athlete to develop. The coach can help identify your goals and plan backward from their date. When you identify your “A” race eight months from now, you and your coach can work backward to establish landmarks between today and race day. These landmarks serve as another thing checked off your list, another brick in the wall of preparation for the event, and another brick that builds the house of confidence you’ll live in on race day.

The other functions performed by intermediate goals are landmarks. It’s eating an elephant one bite at a time. Qualifying for and having a personal best race at the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships is a big goal. When broken down to monthly, weekly and daily landmarks it becomes more achievable. Your coach can provide those landmarks through analysis of your training data.

duathlonYour training plan is also the navigational chart for all the small decisions you’ll make along the way. If you are considering new bike equipment or a new bike will it be suited for your most important event? Will you take delivery of a new bike well before any key events? Do you have a back-up plan in case your plan “A” does not work and the bike doesn’t arrive? If you keep all your racing decisions congruent with you and your coach’s master plan you will stay on course for a great “A” race with less anxiety.

For most coaches the first step to preparing your plan and helping clarify your goals will be a battery of physiological tests. The tests can include performance based tests such as running and bicycle time trials while collecting power and heart rate data along with metabolic tests to determine your max heart rate, VO2 max and blood lactate levels. This benchmarking helps you and your coach find the best opportunities for improvement: your weaknesses. Once your limiters are identified your coach plots a physiological course through them. The destination is your best ever race. Your coach helps provide the map.

When you adapt a systematic plan including the additional perspective of a USAT coach your training become more efficient, rewarding and enjoyable. Races become graduation days, celebrations, free from anxiety and built with focus and the knowledge of everything you’ve done to get to this day. On race day you’re just crossing the graduation stage… as fast as you can.

Tom Demerly of has raced on all seven continents (including Antarctica) and raced triathlons since 1984. He coached for the Bicycling magazine Rider Development Program, USA Cycling and is a four-time USA Cycling Michigan State Champion. Demerly has also coached for the late Doug Stern at his annual Triathlon Training Camps in Curacao in the Dutch Antilles. In 1990 Demerly raced for the Nike/Velo-News/Gatorade Development Team in Liberchie, Belgium. He lives in Tucson, Ariz.

trisports logoThis article is brought to you by is the presenting sponsor of the USAT Duathlon National Championship slated for April 28 in Tucson/Oro Valley, Ariz.