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  • Erin Rock

Eight Traits of Highly Successful Athletes

It’s hard to believe I am entering my fifth year as a multisport coach.  Time has flown by, and I continue to learn something every day.

During this time, I’ve observed that the most successful of athletes seem to share many similar traits.  No, it’s not that they are 21 years old, post-collegiate athletes and have all the time in the world to train.  In fact, some of these may be surprising.  Drum roll please…

1.  They are consistent.  This is the mother load.  The more they stick to the workouts, the more likely they are to succeed in reaching their goals.  When I post a set of workouts, I expect that an athlete will hit 85% of their workouts.  That has been the historical average.  Sure, life happens and a missed workout every couple weeks isn’t going to hurt.  But if I notice it becoming a trend, it might be time to rethink goals.  On the other hand, I have several athletes in the 95% range and sometimes 100%.  When one runner asked if, after hitting every workout for three months straight, she could cut a workout ten minutes short due to an appointment I knew she would be golden!

2.  They are not afraid to go easy on easy days.  I spend an ungodly amount of time reprimanding folks for hitting too ambitious of paces on recovery days.  Yesterday, I wrote a “thank you” text to a client for nailing this.  One of my fastest athletes logged a recovery run in the 10:00 pace ballpark.  She could have run the same workout at 7:00 pace without much discomfort.  The famous coach and author Hal Higdon has touched on this subject in his books, explaining that even the Kenyans will go at a pedestrian pace on recovery days.  This is how we grow and improve!

3.  They are not afraid of hills.  In the past, I have had athletes seek out the flattest terrain for every single workout.  Unless it is specified in the instructions, there is no reason to avoid hills.  And here in Lexington, Kentucky there is no shortage!  Hills are our friends.  They activate our important posterior chain muscles (often lacking in runners) and build strength, which is vital to keeping injuries at bay.

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4.  They are more likely to be Type A personalities.  The athlete who runs circles around their car to avoid the dreaded 9.93 miles on their Garmin is probably going to be more likely to hit their goal than the athlete who stops on an odd number.  I’ve also observed athletes cool down a little longer to hit 45:00 rather than the 43:37 that was on their watch when the workout officially ended.  These athletes send me spreadsheets of their race goals, have a highly organized scheduler and probably don’t sleep well enough.  That said, I have some Type B athletes who can crush it!

5.  They are in touch with their nutrition.  Most of my successful athletes have a good idea of their racing weight, and stay on top of their eating after learning what works for them.  Many are careful.  I have numerous vegetarians/ vegans, a few gluten-free and a few with food allergies.  However, these folks are not afraid to indulge in the occasional dessert or cocktail.  Eating healthy 80% of the time is a sign that you have a healthy relationship with food.

6.  They hit the gym regularly.  Even though I don’t program much strength-training onto their calendars, they realize how important this is.  They all have memorized Nike Coach Jay Johnson’s Myrtl Routine (short hip mobility workout.)  They also strength-train or participate in classes; some teach classes (we have yoga and spin class teachers) and a couple have backgrounds in body-building.  If you are thinking of strength training, check out The New Rules of Lifting, by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.  That book really simplifies the program and is doable for all levels.

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7.  They have crazy schedules.  My typical athletes are doctors, lawyers, accountants, or moms and dads with a LOT on their plates.  They are able to fit in their workouts and sleep by only the most strategic of planning.  One prime example jumps to mind.  Last year at Ironman Louisville, one of my athletes (we’ll call him Cheung) was a full-time student and worker.  He finished his 12 hour night shift and headed straight to the starting line, getting into his wetsuit with just minutes to spare.

8.  They are pet owners.  This one has been a surprise to me, but almost every single successful athlete who I have coached is a pet owner or past pet owner- dogs, cats, horses; you name it.  I have a triathlete in Egypt who always does her cool downs with her dog.  Another triathlete competes in canine biathlons.  I have a runner in California who recently discovered the joys of running with a dog, to the extent that we looked into “canicross.”  This new sport involves racing with the assistance of a pulling dog.  Unfortunately, they haven’t developed anything similar for my successful feline owners.  Anyway, my theory here is that owning pets is a huge responsibility and you have to stay on top of it daily- just like training for these races.  Responsible people make disciplined athletes.

Which of these traits do you possess?

beagle running between grasses

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