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Zachary Britton {May 2011}

"The Training Diaries" is a monthly series of posts by Zachary Britton, a DC Tri Club member who was a participant in the New Triathlete Program in 2007 and is currently attempting to qualify for the Olympics. Read the previous entry.

I thought it would be useful to go over the qualifying process for the US Olympic Team. I will briefly discuss one reason why qualifying is so hard. Lastly, I will talk about my recent decision to leave my coach.

Chances (Qualification Process)

The USA Olympic Triathlon Team will (likely) consist of three men chosen from two events. The first event is the ITU London WCS race this August. The top two American men automatically qualify provided they finish ninth place or better. The third man qualifies at a second selection event. This event will take place in the spring of 2012. Neither the race nor the qualifying criteria has been set for the second event.

I was planning to qualify at the second event. However, I am now looking more seriously towards 2016. This is a recent development. I did not understand the extent of my injuries. Nevertheless, I will go full throttle if races this summer indicate that I should attempt to qualify next spring. I have the talent. My body can go to those places. I just need to put the plan together and execute. But those two things—putting a plan together and executing—will be two of the hardest things I do in my life.

Mental Toughness

One reason why it so hard is that there is no “way” in sport. It is a delicate balance of finding the outer most limit of what you are capable of, both physically and mentally, while preventing overtraining and burnout. Training mental toughness, for example, is a place where balance must be struck. Basically, it hurts to go fast. Racing can be quite miserable. But if you can train yourself to get comfortable in those painful places it can make you a tough competitor. Brownlee is a perfect example of this. It is quite remarkable how far he can push himself.

The problem with this type of training is that mental toughness can border on mental retardation. There is always more you can give. Injury is the most obvious example. Training through injury does not make you a tougher competitor. Run interval training is another example. Run intervals should be done at VO2 max, not above. Running above VO2 max does not improve the body’s aerobic system—the goal of interval training—any more than simply running at VO2 max does. Additionally, it is more taxing on the body. Unless the athlete or coach is purposefully training mental toughness, it does not make sense to run above max. It just further breaks down the body. Thus, there must be a reason to push through the pain.


As a separate matter, I left Siri Lindley (my former coach) this past week. I got injured with her last summer. She and I both acknowledged responsibility for the injury, but it created doubt in my mind. I was no longer 100% certain of her approach.

I am now in the process of finding another coach. I will walk you through my selection process thus far. I have contacted Matt Dixon, Gareth Thomas, and Darren Smith, among others.

Matt Dixon was a former Olympic level swimmer for England. He based in San Francisco. He has a bunch of high-level athletes. Having a former athlete as a coach lends credibility when you are in the thick of things. They have “been there.” But former athletes do not always make great coaches. His roster of pro athletes is also impressive. However, the quality of athlete working with the coach is not always a good indicator of coaching ability.

Gareth Thomas takes a scientific approach to training. He is a numbers guy. He won’t take a look at me until he knows my VO2 max on the bike and the run. Gareth is not well known. He does not have any big name athletes working with him. Nor does he have a squad. I actually consider these things to be a plus. First, an unknown coach forces me to rely solely on my results. It is easy to think that working with Brett Sutton means you are the next Chrissie Wellington. Second, no squad means highly individualized attention.

Darren Smith is based out of Australia. He is probably the most qualified of the coaches. He formed the Queensland Academy of Sport and was associated with the Scottish Triathlon Association until 2005. A male recently left his squad and he said that he would consider taking me. Darren is a professional. I met him a few years ago. So too are his athletes. Also, although he has top-notch athletes I get the sense that he developed them. However, training with Darren is full-on commitment. His athletes dedicate years of their lives to train with him.


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