Moving from participating to competing

Moving from participating to competing

Mike Essex has spent years juggling training with a job and family commitments and manages to do successfully, representing GB at the triathlon age-group world championships in 2014. 

So you have got a few years of participating in triathlons and other events and have seen good progress since you first started. Results are getting better and you have seen improvements in your positions, possibly breaking into the top 10% for your age category. 

Sometimes you wonder what you really could do if you put more effort in….

So why not make this year the year you give it your best crack? Because if not now, when?

I was in exactly this position last year. I had gradually improved times and positions in triathlon and dreamt of making it into the GB team… but thought it was a distant dream. Then I decided to get more scientific about it and really work out what would it take and I DID crack it and made the GB team. Here’s how and it is not as unattainable as you may think.

The mind

First of all you have to tackle the mind. As a behavioural psychologist, I know how the powerful effects of emotion can interfere with rational thoughts. “I don’t think I belong at that level”, “ I am not sure I am good enough”, “ what if I embarrass myself - everyone else will be miles better than me”. Banish those thoughts because your recent results are showing you that you are progressing in the right direction.

Here are some tips to build your confidence levels and to get your mind 100% positive and ready:

1.    Understand what is required 

To get in the top 5-10% of your age category (top 5% for a shot at the GB triathlon/duathlon team) you need be doing a minimum of 8-10 hours a week. Get your head around that and be prepared to do this week in, week out for 6-8 months.

2.    Get single minded

We all lead busy lives with multiple demands on our time. Make improving your performance / getting in the top 10% of your age group the main goal of your year and laser your focus on this.

3.    Build self-confidence

Enter some local events early in the year. The field will be less competitive and you will have a good chance of doing well at your age group. Last year I won the vets category at a local tri, was astounded that I had but it definitely gave me a big boost to my confidence and motivation. I then proceeded to win a couple more that season and then qualified for the GB team. No way would I have thought that possible at the beginning of the season. 

The body

You are already training at a decent level and your fitness levels are high. So you have a great base to work from but in addition to increasing the training hours, you can also get smarter in the way that you train

1.    Make every session count

I said before that you need to be doing 8-10 hours a week. Many of the people I compete against are doing 12-16 hours a week so you need to make every minute of your 8-10 hours count. This means no ‘junk miles’ jogging along at a steady pace – it means interval training, intensity and no slacking (yes, you know when you are slacking!). 

2.    SWIM: get some coaching 

Mastering the front crawl is like mastering a golf swing. It is much more technical than first appearances   suggest. How and where your hand enters the water, the ‘catch’ of your hand, length of the stroke, head position, breathing, leg position and stroke count. Better technique = faster and more efficient. A set of 4, 30 minute sessions with a good swim coach will put you on the right track. 

3.    BIKE: Get a bike fit 

At approx. £200, the bike fit is not the cheapest but it terms of getting faster, it is one of the best things to spend your hard earned cash on. Your body provides the biggest wind resistance on the bike so getting it as aero as possible can save you 2 minutes over a 20km bike route. That is substantial and as you will be more efficient you will have more energy left in the tank for the run. Retul bike fits wire you all up to cameras and computers so you have live data to get in the best position.

4.    RUN: Regularly test yourself at Parkrun

So how do you know you are getting faster? One excellent way to regularly ‘temperature check’ how you are progressing is taking part in the free, 5km weekly Parkruns. It is a great way to test yourself in a competitive environment and it really does replicate race conditions. Other Parkrunners want to get a PB every week so they will push you and you can track your times with the individual barcode timing system. I have found it is a very accurate indication of how my overall training program is going and I also enjoy going for a bacon sarnie and coffee afterwards. Well, you need some rewards right?

Hope the above has been useful, they have worked well for me over the years and now I need to put it into practice at my next big event – the British National Duathlon Championships at Clumber Park on 21st March 2015. 

The Author

Mike Essex

Mike is a regular PayasUgym user and a member of the 2014 Great Britain Triathlon squad, competing in the 40+ category at the World Triathlon Championships in Canada. As a specialist in behavioural psychology, Mike has applied his knowledge and experience to bring you practical motivation and tips on sticking to your health and fitness goals.


Mike D.
22 April 2015

Mike D.

Loving the idea of ParkRun, and I have never heard ot it before. Thanks!

Matthew C.
17 April 2015

Matthew C.

My barber amazed me by saying he was training to be a professional athlete. he is 33!! How is this possible I thought I guess he trains at least those 10 hours a week...

Emma C.
17 April 2015

Emma C.

it's true that jogging isn't going to get me to any high levels, but when I push myself too hard all the enjoyment seems to go out from running and I start to dread it. So personally a gentle jog improves my life more than interval training and the like.

Sasha B.
13 April 2015

Sasha B.

I have just checked and there is a ParkRun very near me on Saturday. Perfect timing to get me back into running. Thank you!!

Frank H.
12 April 2015

Frank H.

I don't ever see myself as a competitor, it wasn't the point of me getting involved in fitness but reading this makes me think it might be possible, if I wanted it to be!

Sarah L.
11 April 2015

Sarah L.

any fitness programme that includes a bacon sarnie gets my vote!

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