Sarah Piampiano is entering her 2nd full season as a professional triathlete. Three years ago, she hadn't attempted an Ironman. This past Sunday, Sarah not only finished 4th overall in Ironman Austria, but did so by having one of strongest bikes of the day, and she followed that up with a 3:02 marathon.
Below are some words of advice from Sarah on long-term planning: "Begin yours today!"
By Sarah Piampiano, Professional Triathlete
As athletes we develop our "North Star" goal early on. From there, with the help and collaboration of coaches and/or advisers, a long-term plan is put in place to achieve that dream. It may be to compete in the Tour de France, to represent your country in the Olympic Games, to win an Ironman, or even just get in shape or ride 100 miles.
For most of us there is a lot of planning and sub-planning, short- and medium-term goals, and stages of focus and development that need to be factored in. As elite athletes we sometimes need to shift attention away from our strengths in order to focus on and address our weaknesses, and this holds true for amateurs as well. A path to success - whatever that might be - must be formed.
When I think about "long term planning" the first thing that needs to be considered is time frame. For one person their goal may be achieved over a 6-month window, while for another it may be several years or more. This will be determined by how far you currently are from your goal, and you must give yourself a realistic amount of time to attain the fitness to achieve it. Once a timeline has been established, the steps that lead to the success of one's long term plan can begin to take shape.
If I take myself as an example, my North Star is to win the Ironman World Championships. To achieve my dream I need evolve significantly as an athlete, and so my time frame is likely a 5-year window. I need to become stronger, more balanced and more resilient. I need to focus on my weakness - swimming - while continuing to build my strengths - the bike and the run. I need to develop better eating, sleeping and recovery habits. I need to become a smarter and more mature athlete and understand which types of training work for me, and which don't. It is a process, and the changes and development don't happen overnight.
Developmentally, where I am today in that process dictates my medium-term plans, which feeds my short-term outlook. And the short-term successes and developments feed medium-term changes and long-term results.
In triathlon you need to look at your performance as a whole, but you also look at strengths and weaknesses in each individual sport. Let's look at my cycling progression.
While I don't have a background in cycling, years of high-level ski racing have helped make the bike perhaps my strongest discipline within triathlon. As a result, when my coach and I looked at cycling and its potential impact on my overall race performance, it was an obvious decision to work on developing it into (hopefully) one of the strongest in the sport.
Personally, I have quite a bit of leg strength, but I lacked a lot of the specificity that comes with experience and time on the bike. The last few years have focused on getting miles under my belt, working on skill development and technique, and on building sustainable power. Using a Power Tap on the road and on the trainer has been an exceptionally valuable tool for me in monitoring my efforts and progress day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year.
In 2011, a lot of my workouts were trainer-based, specifically learning how to generate and maintain power over longer efforts. Last year, I focused a lot on technique, bike handling skills and power development by doing almost all of my riding in the mountains and some very specific trainer sessions.
The results have started to pay off. I've consistently posted some of the top bike splits in my recent races, and I have evolved from a cyclist who was only strong on flat courses to ones who can compete across all terrain and thrives on hillier courses. My power output has jumped dramatically, and I've started thinking more strategically about how to ride my bike, whether in training or in a race.
Riding with power has also allowed me to manage my efforts on recovery days. The point of easier days is to flush out one's legs without significantly taxing the body. I like riding with power on these days because I purposefully keep myself in check and make sure I am maximizing the ride and keep the intensity down.
Now, as I begin to look at next steps, the focus will continue to be on strength development, endurance and muscular resilience, while honing in on tactical elements of training and racing in order to achieve better results in a more efficient manner.
All goals can be achieved, but very few of us can go from zero to hero overnight. To achieve our dreams we need to not be afraid to set the bar high, but then be realistic about what and how long it will take to get there. We need to be flexible and dynamic in our planning all with our longer-term goals in mind.
Don't Dream It. Be It!