2008, June - How to Qualify for the Olympics

That’s Jarrod Shoemaker on his way to claiming his spot on the US Olympic triathlon team. You could say he was close to his max at the time that picture was taken. His time for the ITU BG Beijing World Cup race was 1:49:44, just over a minute slower than the race’s winner, and the favourite to win the Olympics, Javier Gomez (Spain). More importantly Jarrod was 13 seconds faster than Hunter Kemper and 22 seconds faster than Andy Potts. At the race start they were the favourites to claim the spot on the Olympic team. But Jarrod beat them to it.


That picture and the pursuit for glory makes me think of my English friend, Dan. Dan is an ex-rugby player. You can see it in his neck and bones. And more importantly you can see it when he started swimming. After weeks of convincing him to jettison the baggies, he arrived at poolside wearing his Speedo and a grimace. At first, even with the Speedo, he couldn’t complete a length of the pool without veins bulging out of his neck and his face going red from lack of oxygen. No matter how I tried to fix his position in the water, every length would result in him having to take a few seconds to recover from the exertion.

After a few weeks of fighting his away around the pool, I started to realise what the problem was. And it all had to do with Dan’s rugby background. Dan gives only 100% in everything he does. He doesn’t hold back when he starts swimming, he goes full throttle. Dan’s years of explosive accelerations before hitting a bag or opponent were entrenched in all his sporting endeavours: go as hard as possible, until someone or something breaks. Now that’s admirable in this day and age of couch potato-ism, however it’s not a great way to train when you’re doing triathlon.

Dan’s biggest challenge was getting to slow down. Slowing down so he could concentrate on his breathing, technique in the pool and feel of the water. He has an awesome engine, a bit like a drag racer, however we had to wean him off the high octane stuff and re-engineer his engine for patient consistency. Dan was eventually doing 20 lengths in the pool without any problem, and would always complain that he could’ve given more. That’s what we like to hear.

My thoughts about always going at max pace is: “Patience. Your body will adapt. And soon you’ll be able to reach a higher plane so that one day you too can puke like Jarrod, while at top speed instead of after one length at the leisure centre.”

I keep reminding myself of the Dan conundrum in my own training: to train slow is not cowardly, it’s to get me to the next level. I have to go slow before I can go faster. The Arthur Lydiard followers out there would agree.

As part of this process of going slow, I started my monthly run test to gauge how my slow is actually getting faster. Let me explain. Each month I do a 6 kilometre treadmill run test at my aerobic threshold (AeT) which is about 145 heart beats per minute. This feels easy for me, as though I am holding back. This is good. I then take my time for each kilometre and see how I go. My test this weekend went like this:

Total Time: 33:45
Average per km: 6:29 (10:26 per mile)
Average HR: 143 (30+ beats below LT)
PE: 70% effort
Conditions: Warm, comfy gym treadmill. Elevation 0.5%. Thin Johannesburg air.

Splits (HR average)
KM 1: 6:25 (139)
KM 2: 6:27 (143)
KM 3: 6:26 (142)KM 4: 1:18 (146) (interrupted due to crazy gym regs of 20 minutes max on the treadmill)
KM 5: 6:33 (142)
KM 6: 6:34 (147)

The key to the above is my average time per kilometre. Now I know 4:10 per kilometre (6:42 per mile) is the pace I need for a comfortable sub-3 marathon. For me to run a marathon at AeT is close to impossible, but nonetheless it’s a good target to aim for. Somewhere under 5 mins per km at AeT is pretty do-able. I know this from last year’s numbers while training for the London marathon. So in the next few months I’m aiming to knock off a fair amount of time from my 6:29 average to bring it down to 4:xx per k.

As I said before you need to go slow before you can go fast. And then you’ll be able to do The Jarrod at pace.

Keep on living the dream,

Olympic Games - http://en.beijing2008.cn/
18th August 2008 – Women’s Triathlon
19th August 2008 – Men’s Triathlon


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