The Rule of Thirds

Athletes laying on the track after a hard workout
June 9, 2023

D3 Staff


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Triathlon and other endurance sports demand both physical and mental strength as athletes strive to excel in challenging conditions. All too often, endurance athletes focus solely on the physical and neglect the mental side of the sport. This observation applies to both racing and training.  Many times, athletes allow the mental ups and downs of training to negatively affect their physical preparation.  Keeping an even mindset to both excellent workouts as well as workouts where you struggle can help to set up a great race season and your training on track.

One tool to employ to strengthen mental resilience is the Rule of 3rds.  This rule was recently described by Alexi Pappas, an Olympian and Greek record holder in the 10K.  She credits her coach with describing the Rule of 3rds during her training run up to the Rio Olympics.  When she was struggling on a particularly tough workout, her coach told her it was ok because of the rule of 3rds.  For ⅓ of the workouts you will struggle, ⅓ of the workouts go great,  and finally ⅓ of the time the workouts should just go average.  Looking at these distributions of emotions can offer valuable insights into an athlete's progress and areas requiring improvement. If an athlete consistently has an excess of good days, it may indicate a lack of pushing themselves to their limits. On the opposite side of things, an abundance of bad days may signal the need for adjustments in rest and recovery or training load and intensity.

These ratio’s become more and more important as your goals become bigger and bigger.  In other words, the closer you get to pushing your boundaries, the more you will need to “be ok” with “struggling” some of the time.  For most driven triathletes and endurance athletes being “ok” with struggling is a foreign concept.  However, it is just this acceptance that keeps training going well.  It is important to remember that the moment of unpleasantness that the tough workout brings on is part of the growing process. Being able to not get down after a bad workout and comeback again and again to challenge themselves is what separates the top tier athlete from the pack and enables big athletic breakthroughs.

Embracing the Rule of 3rds fortifies mental resilience, a vital attribute for achieving success in triathlon and endurance sports. Mental resilience enables athletes to remain motivated even when facing challenging training blocks and workouts that do not yield the desired results. Learning to accept challenges and see them as opportunities to grow are the best thing that an athlete can do. Every single athlete on the planet has had hard days. Realizing that this is all part of the process to getting better, is the best mindset that an athlete can have. By accepting the inevitable ups and downs, athletes can maintain focus, determination, and a positive mindset throughout their training journey.

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