The Art of Discipline

Triathletes are certainly a diligent bunch. Daily schedules are loaded carefully to balance training and life commitments. Seasons are meticulously planned. Workouts are executed with passion and determination. Social events are bypassed for extra sleep. Dessert unordered until after the big race. Yes, we are committed. But, are we disciplined?

I may be stepping out on a limb, but I would venture to say that most of us have a discipline problem. As a coach and an athlete, I have a unique perspective. Not only do I have the knowledge of my own training, but I am also keenly aware of the regimens of other athletes.

By discipline, I do not mean the obvious dedication to training and racing. I am referring to other things that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Discipline in training

Whether you are self-coached or work with a coach, a training plan is a necessity. But, any plan is useless if it is not adhered to. We are all guilty of going too hard, it is in our nature. The cumulative of effect running too fast or biking too hard may not be apparent in the short term, but over time, the body will break down and show signs of fatigue.

Discipline means sticking to the plan, even when confronted with temptation. Do not chase down the breakaway on the Saturday ride increasing your watts well above the target for the day, especially if you have already done some hard work.  Back down your run intervals, even if you are feeling lighter than air. Race day is the time to unleash the inner beast.

(Certainly, on occasion, it is ok to deviate from the plan to go a little crazy, but done with regularity can lead to leaving your race in training. And, since the effects of overachieving in one workout can be seen several days later, make sure you time such as assault so that it is not too close to a race or another key session.)

The area in which I see the least discipline among triathletes is easy/recovery workouts. We are number junkies who like to go hard. Get a group of such people together for a recovery ride and suddenly it turns into a hammer-fest. If you know that you are susceptible to “racing” when you ride with your buddies, do your recovery workouts alone. Enjoy the scenery, choose routes you do not normally train on, leave your gadgets at home. You should finish your easy workouts feeling refreshed.  Have the discipline (and confidence) to take it slow.

Discipline in racing

An athlete I coach raced over the weekend. A wattage cap on the hills was set at 240. Upon review of the power file, many spikes of 400 watts were seen. The result? A very tough back half of the run. My athlete’s comment? “I just wasn’t disciplined enough on the bike. “

In contrast, another athlete I coach who was in the same race had a run PR. Wattages were adhered to on the bike, even when getting passed on the hills. This athlete recognized that it was hard to see people pedal by, but memories of lack of discipline in a previous race leading to a very tough run, kept the athlete in check.

A race plan is a necessity. Sticking to the plan is even more important. And, the longer the race, the cost of being undisciplined is higher.  Suppose you are undisciplined every time you toe the line, but your race distance increases (for comparison, I added a line for being well disciplined). I propose that the effects will look like this:


Success in triathlon comes from having discipline. Here are some other ways to show good discipline: not walking around the expo in 100 degree heat, sticking to a nutritional plan, stopping a workout early if you are tired, substituting a workout for a nap if you are sick. There are so many ways to make improvements apart from killing yourself in training.

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3 Responses

  1. Christi says:

    Great post! I needed to hear this and I will try to be more disciplined!

  2. gaspablue says:

    wonderful insight! funny a friend & I were just discussing this. thanks for sharing.

  3. Luis says:

    Well, we have the same sentiments.It was the same thing I keep on telling my son. Discipline is the most important thing one has to learn and one is to showcase in any kind of sports. He wants to be a triathlete like me.Good thing, I found this post, I'll let him read on this.
    Triathlon is not just a sport for me, it provides me with quality time for my son. And the fact that it keeps me fit at my age (42), this thus works with the men's anti aging products that I use for maintainance.