One of South Africa’s top multisporters, Stuart Marais, has plenty of experience in a number of different disciplines. His advice for athletes who are focusing on one sport, or multisports is invaluable. Stuart shares with you his top 10 multisport lessons for anyone looking to improve in the sport.
I started doing multisport from a very young age. Growing up on a farm in the Eastern Cape, I suppose we were tough and did most things the hard way. So over the years, I have learnt many lessons, most of them by way of trial and error… But the following article is directed at you. See it as a means to avoid the silly mistakes I have made along my journey.
1. Don’t be a slave
Most of us start our sports with a bang. We want to become the best overnight. So we slam away on the bike for four hours, jump into the pool for another hour and then head off for another hour run… And all the while, your girlfriend, wife, husband, children, wait patiently for you to arrive back home, hoping to catch up on lost time. Well, this was me anyway… The key is balance. Plan your weeks and training sessions in advance and make time for those most important to you.
2. Make your weaknesses your strengths
We all have strengths and weaknesses. If you run exceptionally well, don’t spend five days a week improving something which already works. Rather spend the bulk of your time on something which doesn’t… which is swimming or paddling for many. Become better at whatever makes you battle. I have found my performance has improved dramatically since I started working on my weaknesses. It’s hard work, but it usually pays off.
This is a very broad topic but it all starts at home with a healthy eating plan. Doing this will give you sufficient energy to get out on the road, after all, this is usually the most important step. Your race day nutrition should be similar to your training nutrition. Make sure you practice to eat your race food, gels are good for training too. Keep it simple. Look at your body as an engine. It needs good fuel to run optimally. Don’t underestimate this crucial pitstop, it could cost you a lot more than a long day out.
Your equipment can be your worst enemy, come race day. Don’t make any last minute changes to your bike, shoes, goggles, paddles, transition layout… Keep it simple. You don’t need the best of everything to be better than your mate. Make sure you train with your race gear and that you are comfortable with it. I borrowed a bike once, 20 minutes into the race, the brakes fell off completely. It is about the bike, but even more so about the engine!
After your hardest sessions, you often feel untouchable. The session is in the bag! So you head out the following day to repeat this in a different discipline. Mistake! Yesterday is still in your legs and your body needs 24 hours to recover from a serious session. Rather take the following two days slightly easier to capitalise on hard work put in. A slightly under-trained healthy body is always better than an over-trained, tired body.
Become a student of the sport you do
6. Two-a-day keeps the doctor away
This is my standard rule. There are times where it is bent slightly, but in general, two training sessions a day is enough. Especially if they are quality sessions, you will reap the biggest benefits from limiting your energy usage to twice a day. Many try squeeze in three sessions, only damaging their bodies and not gaining from their previous sets. Look at rest as your third session.
7. Mind games
This has been a big battle for me, and it often still is. On race day, we have an incredible ability to psyche ourselves out of a race. Back yourself, find your own space, go into a bubble where nobody else can get near to you and visualise your day out. Make it fun and run through all possibilities, good and bad. This way you will be prepared for anything which comes your way. If it’s extremely hot, embrace the heat! Control what you can control, focus on that only.
8. Brick sessions
I like to refer to these as key sets. Try your best to mimic race-conditions. Most of us are familiar with the off-the-bike-run but has anyone given thought to “out the water bike”? This is a critical transition for your muscles. Your body is usually flat as most of your blood is in your upper body. Practice this brick session, it’s important.
Become a student of the sport you do. You can never know enough… Get into the habit of researching the course you will be racing on and do your best to mimic race day conditions. Plan in advance for all weather conditions. If the tides will have an influence on race day, find out when high and low are applicable. Most importantly, make sure you give yourself enough time to drive to the venue and be relaxed before the start. A relaxed mind is a dangerous machine.
10. Troubleshooting or race banter
This is often the most overlooked, but most crucial mistake made by many multisporters. After the race we often pack our bags, rack our bikes and mission off home in a sad state after a rough day out. The best thing to do is grab a beer, sit down with a group of fellow multisporters and share your experiences with each other. Find out what worked and what failed. Learn from their mistakes and good decisions. Ask the top guys what they did to handle the technical portage or which shoes or equipment was faster over the loose rock. Learn from your mistakes, eat some humble pie and come back stronger next time!