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5 Things This Triathlete Learned From Joe Friel

BY John Post, MD

Five nuggets of wisdom for training and life.

Joe Friel, a name synonymous with excellence in triathlon has, at one time or another, been my coach, mentor, friend, roommate, and partner in providing athletes with information to elevate their performance.  Globally known as the author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Fast After 50, Your Best Triathlon, etc., Friel has seen all aspects of this sport and has helped many a competitor.  I would like to present five things I learned from him and how each can be incorporated into your life/training getting you closer to your tri mountain top.

Take the stairs and add a day to your life.

Friel would have each athlete look for exercise opportunities in their day other than/in addition to their scheduled workouts.  Avoiding elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks would be a first step.  Who among us hasn’t been at an airport waiting for that connecting flight just staring into space?  Is there any reason you can’t find time for a few pushups, sit ups, squats, what-have-you? A stronger triathlete is a faster triathlete.

When experiencing non-training related life stresses, it’s usually wise to reduce workout durations and intensities.

“Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.  Coincidence? I think not.” (Author unknown)

I heard Matt Dixon quoted once saying that “stress is your best friend…but can also easily become your worst enemy.”  Repeatedly stressing the body in a controlled fashion is what triathlon training is all about — but Joe Friel writes in the Triathlete’s Training Bible that “A diet of high-stress training without the equivalent counterbalance of rest leads only to problems, not high performance.” In other words, as Joe tweets, “piling stress on top of stress is counterproductive.”

Those of us under stress outside of the sport (new baby at home, financial worries, pressure from the job, etc.) have a cumulative backpack of stress that might require what we do in the pool or on the bike to be adjusted. Keep an open mind to backing off the workout(s) for your day if the external stress load has become excessive.

Each of us is genetically different enough that we handle stress in our own fashion, some quite well, others less so. Knowing your response is just another part of the training equation.

Sleep – the world’s best recovery device.

“Sleep is calling me, and I must go.”  A phrase from Jennifer Williamson who would probably agree that the purpose of sleep is to rejuvenate and rebuild your muscular, skeletal, and immune systems.  Yes, we understand this on several levels, but who among us hasn’t shortchanged sleep for any number of reasons? The problem is that if you cut your sleep short, you’re also cutting short your daily recovery.  

There are those who, for a host of reasons “save sleep for the weekends,” but I doubt that will prove the most effective in the long term. Sure, occasionally some family or work issue come up, but for day-to-day scheduling, try to turn off the laptop and TV early — as difficult as it may be when Game of Thrones is on — and head for bed.  

Consistent training means you don’t miss workouts.  You just don’t.

Joe’s not only a world-famous coach but he knows a thing or two about racing. A perennial USAT All-American duathlete, he’s been on several National Duathlon teams and a contender on a world-class level.  The guy was good! However, we were talking a couple weeks ago, and in preparation for this piece I asked if he were still racing now.  His response – “No. I can’t establish a decent base of fitness.”

He hasn’t raced in 4 years now due to too much travel, and too frequent interruptions in training — and he practices what he preaches: consistency in training. Missed workouts, hit-and-miss training schedules, frequent, and even not-so-frequent skips in bike or run entries just will not lead to finish line success.  

This is most important in the weeks leading up to your “A” race, especially a contest of great length. Joe defines consistency as “the least amount of training that still achieves your goal — the least, not the most training.”  Ring any bells here? Do your level best to keep those training log goose eggs to a minimum.

“Beer, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.”

This last one is more of a personal anecdote than anything else.  About 15 years ago in Kona, I had an especially difficult race and during the last few miles of the run vowed never to do this event again.  I know lots of people who think the same during a rough patch of racing but 24 hours later are on the web looking for another race. But I was serious.  At least I thought so then.

Finishing later than expected, I was greeted by Joe with a huge welcoming smile to soften the blow.  Then, from somewhere, came this brown bottle of ice-cold beer. No beverage before or since has ever tasted quite so good!  More than a little dehydrated, I downed it fairly quickly as you might expect, particularly if you’ve been there. We walked slowly to the post-race area, finisher’s medal dangling right and left, legs and neck sunburned from a day in the brutal Hawaiian sun, lovely orchid lei around my neck, when I looked at Joe and said almost plaintively, “You, uh, wouldn’t have another one would you?”

And from Joe’s fanny pack, the unmistakable neck of beer bottle #2 peeked out.

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About John Post, MD

Dr. Post has a long history with triathlon including 6 Kona finishes and an Orthopedic Surgery practice in Virginia caring for, among others, injured triathletes. He now enjoys giving back to the sport by being a World Championship Transitions volunteer every October. If you find yourself on the pier in Kona, please stop and say hi to “the man in the red hat.”