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Lynne Bermel
Lynne Bermel's Column

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April 25, 2000

Top 10 Most Common Training Mistakes


Joe Friel, author of the Triathlete’s Training Bible and coach of some of the world’s best duathletes, including Ottawa’s Lynda Hickman, has come up with one of the best lists we’ve seen of the 7 stupid training mistakes. With apologies to Joe, we’ve added a few of our own to make a list of the "Top 10 Common Training Mistakes."

As a coach, Joe has spent a lot of time talking with athletes and answering their questions. He says he is always amazed to find the same training blunders being made over and over – and not just by novices. Even the most experienced pros have made at least one of his "stupid mistakes" at some point during their careers. If you can avoid these 10 pitfalls, you’re on your way to one of your best seasons ever.

1. Having No Direction

Almost every athlete has goals, says Joe, but there are typically two problems associated with them: They are often too vague (such as "I want to get better") and they are usually forgotten by the time the hard training or racing begins. The athlete becomes so absorbed in preparing for the next race; he/she loses sight of the big picture. "They become myopic about training, " says Joe. To avoid this pitfall, he advocates setting a series of sub-goals that lead to the main goal/race at the peak of the season.

We’d add that the athlete should set goals for each workout – be it working on technique (a smooth efficient running style, faster cadence, pedaling in circles or relaxing arm turnover in the pool), hitting certain interval times, or concentrating on mental focus.

Even a small goal will get you out running on days when you’re just not in the mood.

2. Aiming too high

It’s good to set goals, but they should be attainable, he cautions. If you’re currently at 40 minutes for 10 kms, it would be unrealistic to shoot for 36 minutes this season. Try for a 10-second improvement from your previous race rather than chopping minutes off your time. Remember Richard Dreyfuss’ advise to Bill Murray in the movie "What About Bob?" "Baby Steps!" That way, every race and workout will be a positive experience.

3. Not setting priorities

Joe says that almost every athlete he knows can make the mistake of not setting race priorities. They treat every race as critical. This is especially true if you’re competing in a race series where each race counts toward the final standing. The problem with it is that it never allows you to fully realize your potential and results in what he calls "permanent mediocrity." Instead, he suggests, you should pick three or four races in the season which you want to peak for and "train through" the others.

4. Training the Wrong Stuff

Joe is a strong advocate of training your weaknesses. All too often you find triathletes putting their energies into their strongest events rather than working on their weak areas. You’ll often see an athlete, who is a poor swimmer but loves cycling, spend a disproportionate amount of time in the saddle rather than pounding out laps in the pool. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, says Joe.

5. Racing in training

We’ve added this common faux pas. It’s an easy rut to get into, especially if you train with a team or group. This is an important to avoid because it could mean you are leaving your best races in the workout. If you are scheduled for an easy day, don’t go out on a group ride or run unless they faithfully keep their promises to "keep it easy." Mark Allen once said of the San Diego crowd, "I’ve seen far too many examples where the group starts the ride saying it will be easy and then someone jumps and bamm, it becomes a race". He used to avoid the famous Wednesday ride for this very reason. One of our coach’s favourite sayings is: "Don’t’ pull the carrots to see if they’re growing."

6. Not enough rest

Another of Joe Friel’s picks. Triathletes – particularly mileage hungry Ironman triathletes – are guilty of this one. Friel suggests that a lot of it is due to the personality traits of multi-sport athletes who get caught up in the "more is better" syndrome. Rest days must be built into every week of training as well as short breaks in training throughout the year. He also advocates a form of "periodization" where the athlete takes several consecutive days of reduced training every 3 to 4 weeks. The body gets stronger by stress – then rest.

7. Ignoring Over-training

This is a big faux pas of triathletes (sorry to pick on them!) - Ironman triathletes in particular. I have to admit that during all my years of Ironman racing, I was continually and chronically over-trained. I’d usually ignore the nagging fatigue, recurring sniffles and restless nights because of my determination to hit my weekly quotas for training. In hindsight, I’d have been better off taking more recovery. "By the time your body starts showing signs of over-training," says Joe, "it’s already too late. You’re already over the edge." The only way to avoid over-training is to build regular breaks into your schedule, having confidence in your training and by listening to your body.

8. Not warming up and warming down adequately

How often we ignore a good warm-up and cool down! The warm up is very important because it helps the body adapt to the workload ahead. You should never start a workout without a proper warm-up – the experts recommend at least 10 minutes minimum but preferably 20 to 30 of gentle, easy exercise to get everything flowing. You should warm-down the same length of time, the body uses this time to dissipate the lactic acid and ease muscle soreness.

The best warm up for a road race? According to Jack Daniels, who has experimented with distance runners at State University of New York:

Run easy for 1-2 miles then lightly stretch out any tight muscles. Run 5 to 6 X 100 metre strides at your mile race pace with a 30 to 40 sec recovery between strides. Then run 2-3 minutes at your threshold pace (Slightly slower than your 10 km pace). During the final 10-25 minutes before the race, keep moving.

Daniel’s race warm up is based on science. The strides and threshold run in particular increase your chances of starting the race at proper pace.

9. Not stretching

You can get away with a lot when you’re young – including not stretching – but you can’t when your older. Proper stretching is critical to keeping you flexible.

10. Taking it too seriously

Yes, you want to improve; Yes, you want to set Personal Bests every time out but you have to be realistic. Remember baby steps. Unless you’re training for the Olympics - and even if you are - you should always remember there is life beyond training. This means not having a nervous breakdown before a race or a time-trial, or wanting to jump off the nearest bridge if you fail to meet goal times in a race. It means keeping training and life in balance, enjoying time away from the track with others and above all – having FUN!

Contact Lynne via email @

For more on Lynne's background read this interview with Wayne Scanlan which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen.

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