Instant Gratification & Endurance Sport

As a culture, we’ve become increasingly absorbed by products, services and experiences that promise instant gratification.

Instant Gratification

In the world of endurance sport, maybe this translates to taking supplements (legal or illegal) to lose weight quickly, to build strength quickly, to boost endurance overnight, to eliminate fatigue.

Maybe it means we expect unrealistic results, before we’ve put the time in, before we’ve done the work we need to do in order to achieve the goals that are worth achieving.

Maybe it means we compare ourselves to others, thinking if we do exactly what they have done, we’ll have the same results.

But, in endurance sport, there is no instant gratification, no get-fit-quick schemes that produce any type of lasting results.

There are only long and/or challenging workouts that bring with them a sense of satisfaction when you complete a session that seemed impossible, when you achieve a goal you once thought only a pipe dream.

When I began racing triathlons, I didn’t have a history of swimming and cycling, yet I wanted instant gratification. I thought my run fitness would translate automatically to the water and the bike.

I thought wrong.

I did my first sprint with limited swim training. I wondered why the swim was such a sufferfest. I went from my first sprint to my first half iron distance within 3 months. My first Ironman followed 10 months after that. I wondered why I wasn’t competitive.

Silly me.

Despite the fact that I had never swum freestyle before triathlon, I wanted to be Michael Phelps – or at least half as fast as Phelps. That would still do the trick in triathlon. 😉

I had never ridden a bike seriously, and had never even been on a road bike or tri bike before I started triathlons. Yet, somehow, I thought that after minimal training, I’d be ready for the Tour de France.

Silly me, part deux.

I’ve since realized that any success worth having is worth working for – no matter what it takes.

Now, I coach budding new triathletes and runners, and, just as I did, many of them want instant gratification.

There is one method to build success in endurance sport. Put the time in, and do the work. Allow for recovery to bring about the adaptations in strength, speed, and endurance. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Unlike the finely tuned sports car, we can’t go from 0 to 60 – or from novice to elite – in an instant. We need to put in the time to reap the training benefits.

The more aggressive the goal, the more time may be required to achieve that goal. The more or less general athletic experience also influences how much time you may need to put in. So, when you think of setting goals, think not only about the current season, but multi-season goals. How is what you are doing this season helping you to build for your future seasons?

But, what about those genetic freaks, you ask. You know, the ones who seem to be able to go fast and long right out of the blocks – they get instant gratification, right?

Wrong.

I live with one of those genetic freaks (my husband), and he has to put the hard work in, too.

All of the talent in the world won’t make a bit of a difference if you waste it on the couch. All of the talent – or lack thereof – won’t make a difference if you don’t have the heart to go all in for as long as it takes to achieve the goals you want.

Lasting success in sport–indeed, lasting success in life–doesn’t happen in an instant. You have to put in the work – consistently.

It’s easy to stay motivated when the gains come quickly, when we are hitting PRs, and when the workload feels effortless. But, when those gains don’t happen overnight, and the work is hard, yet seems to have no effect, that’s when we need the motivation and the will to keep pushing the most.

I’ve been racing Ironman for four years. Have I put in the time I need in order to grab the golden ring in ultra triathlon: the KQ?

I don’t know. We’ll see.

Many factors go into a Kona-qualifying performance – some of which includes a little luck. But, I’ve learned that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. And, with 5 weeks to go until the big show, I’m prepared for whatever opportunity comes knocking.

But, no matter what the outcome is on July 28th, in the instant that I cross the finish line at Ironman Lake Placid, I’ll be gratified. That single moment of gratification comes from the accumulation of moments when I chose to keep pushing my limits instead of accepting them, when I realized that the best things in life don’t just come in an instant.

I don’t mind working for that one bit.

20 Comments

  1. Don Martin

    3 Sprints last year, 1 Sprint and a Short Oly this year. On the 28th while you are doing IMLP, I’ll be doing my first 1/2. My goal is pretty simple – finish – hopefully within the time cutoff. I feel pretty good about the swim and bike but have no idea how the run (walk/jog) will go. Due to a number of issues my longest run to date has been 10Km which is definitely not good. But I’ll be out their “Hell or High Water” (reference to new moto for flood ravaged Calgary) :).

    Looking forward to seeing your post after IMLP, give it hell and get that Kona Slot.

  2. I am so glad that I found you r blog and your post when I did! I just started racing tri’s this year after years of running. I expected to pick up cycling and swimming just like that and it has been a very humbling experience to start as a beginner. I just have to keep reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all of the bloggers that I follow who are posting amazing results have been at this far longer than I have! I’m excited to keep putting in the training, and will definitely look back on this post to help keep things in perspective.

  3. So true! One of the many things triathlon teaches us is patience. It has taken me 5 years to get to what was my original goal of competing in Ironman Lake Placid next month. Setting those smaller milestones along the way, such as learning to swim, sprint, olympic, and half-ironman triathlons, help to keep your focus on the present while still progressing towards that ultimate goal/dream.
    My wife asked me what I was going to do after IMLP. Hmmm…no idea.

    1. I predict you may have another IM in your future – hahaha! They are addictive. I agree that setting the smaller milestones along the way to the “big” goal is really important. It helps you see progress, stay motivated, and keep your eye on the long term prize. Otherwise, it can be overwhelming to think about everything all at once.

  4. Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

    Love it. I just wrote a note to do a follow-up to this post on my blog for Friday and will link back here because I think this is an important topic for people getting into endurance sports. I also have two stories to tell about swimming and how the hard work is starting to pay off.

      1. Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

        Getting ready to put the finishing touches on that post for publishing tomorrow. Thank you for everything you do and this post. I read it again this morning and it means a lot as I can read it through your voice and know that you put everything you have into this and all things that come to you.

        Less than 30 days and your overnight success at IMLP will show through.

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