Solo Act or Team Player?

I am into my 25th season of racing triathlons, and after finishing 15 Ironman events, I almost always train alone. A few of my workouts are with athletes I coach.  I used to coached 3 different group swims, 1 group ride and 2 group runs, to help keep athletes motivated and on track, and educate  beginners with hands on technique. When it comes to my own workouts, I enjoy the solitude and training at my own pace on my now time frame.

I would like to do a few rides with a group of triathletes who are faster than me, but most groups I have tried to ride with are usually too fast or two slow or involve structure that is not part of my training plan, i.e. hills or intervals. I like group track sessions, but the one I could attend for three weeks over the summer meets on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., I work at the time. Masters swim programs often involve sets that give me too much rest and I never feel like I get my desired swim workout. I tend to swim the masters swim workout written on the board.

I am sure most of you can agree, the longer bike and run weekly sessions provide the most “fun” and entertainment to make the workout go by faster.  My long runs and rides are my thinking/processing time. I tend to create athlete training plans for the people I coach, and get inspired to write an article or blog while riding. Being able to self-monitor is very important in long races, and training alone on long rides and runs is the best way of achieving this for me. I do not do much open water swim training, I prefer to swim in the pool. I don’t push myself in group open water sessions and tend to get distracted by helping others get comfortable in the open water, acclimating to the temperature or learning how to breathe or sight more effectively.

With work and family obligations, I can’t be held up by other people’s schedules, as most of us have other priorities and commitments to attend to.

The upside of training with partner or group:

•Motivation and the prospect of being “pulled” to work harder by stronger athletes.
•You can learn a lot very quickly from other, more experienced triathletes.
•The miles on the bike can go by quickly if you have others to chat with.
•Swimming with a masters swim group with pool-based coaching is very helpful. The coaches tend to push you that little bit more or correct stroke flaws you might not be aware of.
•Training with others and observing them can help you improve or detect technique flaws, as well.

The downside of training with a partner or group

•One training plan does not fit everyone. For best results for YOU, stick to a plan – your plan, and your workouts – and sometimes the group dynamic does not permit that.
•You give up the control of setting your own schedule and can end up relying on other people.
•Training alone can also be very good for mental toughness, if you are honest with your efforts. Remember, one good workout done at the right level of effort and with good form beats five crappy workouts done without thought.
•Your training partner/group is most likely training for different events than you are, and have their own schedules to follow.
•In triathlon, you race alone – not in a group. While training for an Ironman, solitary training gets you used to long periods of time on the course that you will spend with only your own thoughts for entertainment or annoyance.

My advice

•Get a good plan based on your current level of fitness and, if possible, get some feedback from a local coach to check in on your form occasionally.
•Most people do their long rides on the weekends, which is the perfect time for you to line up riding buddies to go for some or all of your long rides. This makes it somewhat of an adventure, but also makes it more safe. It’s also a good idea to switch up your long run. If you do your long ride on Saturday or Sunday, get in a long run on a Thursday.
•When training for a long event, I recommend training solo for at least 50 percent of your long distance miles. This avoids the urge to slow your pace or work to keep up with or beat your training buddy and take your training session into the wrong training zone in the process.
•When you have a hard session, based on your individual training plan, it can be good to have a stronger training partner around to make you push a little harder.
•Train alone during the weekdays (it is easier to schedule), and with friends in the weekends when you do your longer sessions. That way, you can get your big miles in with a bit of socializing,, and the miles tend to go by a bit quicker.
•It is important to train properly, at your fitness level, but you probably get something else out of spending a day riding with friends. You may or may not go as fast as you would individually, but you are likely to have enjoyed the ride. Unless you are an elite competitor and are going for a spot on the podium, it is better not to get obsessed. Train, sweat, and share the “punishment” with friends.

Wendy Mader, MS, USAT, TRX certified, aka WonderWoman, is a Heath, Wellness and Sport Coach living in Fort Collins CO. She coaches high school, college and adults. Please follow me on facebook profile Wendy Mader and t2coaching and twitter (t2coachwendy)

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