College classroom.

Imagine taking a college class that didn’t include tests, papers of final exams. All you have is the routine of going to class, studying and repeating. Think of taking a class that you are only auditing.

Sounds nice? No pressure. Just go, listen and repeat. No tests, no one expects you to participate in class discussions, etc.

Compare that to the typical college experience. Instead of the “go, study, repeat” model, you have a syllabus, with milestones determined by someone else and moments when you get measured and compared with others. You have a final exam when you finish the class, too. You have time off after you finish to absorb all that you have learned, and you come back to the next harder course. You repeat until you get your degree.

Which model will better facilitate success? For nearly everyone, the latter has shown to be best. No deadlines mean things don’t get done in a timely manner. We all need a few deadlines.

These two models manifest themselves during New Year’s Resolutions. People recognize that “now” is the time to get back to some previous state of health or fitness. Traditionally, our society markets to the “just go to class and come back” model by suggesting to us that now is the time to sign up for a gym membership or a membership in the latest fad in high intensity interval training.

The only commitment that folks make is an enrollment fee and a monthly charge. In essence, they audit their health and fitness goals. No outside tests, no syllabus, no final exams, no nothing on the accountability front. Skip a class? Not a problem. Just try harder.

What in the world makes them think this plan will help them reach their goals? Certainly, there is the hope that exercise and healthy eating become a habit. A hope isn’t the same thing as a plan that includes accountability.

I propose that people take the second model approach not just to learning but to reaching their fitness. As such, you need to have a final exam date, and you need someone giving you homework and creating your syllabus.

That is what I do as a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and as a Training Peaks Certified Coach.

I help you find an event that perhaps you secretly have always wanted to do. I create the syllabus with structured workouts, test events and appropriate time off (think Spring Break) for you to absorb the training. We jointly select and insert test events in the middle, to see how you are progressing.

When the final exam day comes, you are as prepared as you can be, as I have adjusted workouts throughout the process based on how well you are doing.

The big “ah hah” moment occurs when you realize that there is an inseparable need for an event as there is a process to get you there.

final exam

Final Exam. NECESSARY for measurement of success.

Don’t sign up for a process without an event. You will find yourself back in the same hole on Jan 1, 2021, wondering what you need to do to make 2021 your best year. What you won’t ask is why 2020 wasn’t.

Since I lead by example, let me tell you my 2020 training plan. I do not suggest adopting it, as there are many years of work in this-since we are using the college course analogy, think of this as something like a master’s thesis plan.

My Final Exams for 2020 (‘A’ Priority Events) are Duathlon Nationals and then the World Championships. The first ones are in May and the second ones are in September.

MY ‘B’ Priority running events that will be similar to my test grades are a series of running events between January and late February. They are intended to increase my running fitness and speed, as I lost some of it when I had dengue fever. I have one Ultra Marathon, 1 half marathon, 2 different 10-mile races and a 10K between this Saturday and the end of February. This loads up my winter training with a focus on running, as it is very easy to run outside in the winter when compared to cycling outside.

On the cycling side, I know I must get faster to compete on the world stage, so I have created a series of events starting in March that will really help me with endurance as well as speed. I am leading a trip to Spain during the 2nd week of March and again riding across the Pyrenees in August. I have put several 100+ mile rides on the calendar as well as added some smaller events to test how I am progressing.

As of January 1, I have 31 events, graded in priority from A to C, to help me get better, each with a distinct purpose. Every event on the calendar has my Final Exams in mind. Not all of these require travel or spending money; the C events are like pop quizzes along the way to a mid-term exam. I have no less than 12 weeks off from vigorous exercise when my body can absorb all that I have been asking of it, and I anticipate spending 455 hours working out to reach my goals. I know where I need to get better, and this is the plan to do it. It considers what worked and didn’t work last year, and it started this am with a long bike ride on my trainer in the basement.

I have two events at the end of the year for fun-I won’t be wearing any devices to measure my time, pace, heart rate, power or anything. I will be enjoying my body and God’s creation as it passes me by. Then, I will head to Nepal to lead a group into the Annapurna Sanctuary for 13 days.

When you first talk to me, my intention will be to find out what it is you really want to do. Perhaps it is run your first marathon or Ultra Marathon, or maybe you just want to get strong enough to take your son fishing in remote Alaska this summer or finish your first 5K by Thanksgiving. Regardless, we will put together a plan to help you reach your goals, in time for that big event.

Don’t audit your fitness and health like you audit a college class. Take the real class, not college, with a syllabus and a final exam that means something. Then, you can take the harder class later, because you will be better. And you won’t have to pretend on Jan 1, 2021 that this will finally be the year you get better.