Triathlon Interview with Ironman World Champ Scott Molina: Process Focused vs. Results Focused

A triathlete looking over his bike pre-race
December 15, 2016

Mike Ricci


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Recently, I was listening to a Triathlete Mag interview with one my triathlon heroes and inspirations, Scott Molina. My very first year in triathlon was 1988, the same year that the "Terminator", as Scott is known, won Ironman Hawaii. For a man who was best known for winning shorter distance races, and having trouble in the heat, this was the cherry on top of an incredible racing career. I got to meet the Terminator in the summer of 2003, when he was leading a crew of his Epic Camp participants across Colorado. Scott has been racing since the early 1980's and even now he is still racing at the front of the pack as witnessed by his 1st overall Age Group win at Ironman AZ in 2005.

When talking with Scott about those training adventures back in the 80's, one thing became apparent: he and the crew he trained with loved to go out there each day and create new adventures and to push each other to the limit. On race day, with money on the line, it was a given that someone from his training group would win the race as it was just "another day" of pushing each others limits.

In Scott's interview he mentioned something that turned the light on for me, so to speak, not only as an athlete, but as coach as well. I have always tried to steer my athletes away fromdrop dead goals and more toward enjoying the training process and let the results take care of themselves. For the most part, the athletes that can let go of their time goals are the ones who usually achieve them. This has always been an intuitive sense as a coach, but I hadn't thought about it until I heard Scott's interview. Scott summed up this approach when he mentioned process focused athletes, vs. results focused athletes, meaning enjoy your training, and the results will take care of themselves. In other words, if you are so focused on the end result, you won't have as much fun in training and the chances of you reaching your time goals diminish greatly. This past week I sent the Terminator an email asking him his thoughts on the whole subject about being processed focused vs. results focused and here's what he had to say:

Mike: Scott, can you go into a little more detail on this topic? What is it exactly that you encourage your athletes to do in order to reach their long term goals?

Scott Molina: Most people I work with hire me to help them achieve their goals. That's what they ask so that's what I try to deliver. Many want to better their time or place in an IM or qualify for Kona. Nearly 100% of the time they are focused on a goal or two. What I try to convince them of along the way is that if they can learn to enjoy the challenges of daily training then the goals will take care of themselves. The hardest part of this sport is creating a life that includes training in such a way that the athlete looks forward to it. If they can do that then they're 90% the way there.

For example often times I need to help them set up methods to ensure they do the preventative maintenance regularly so they don't get injured. Injury prevention isn't usually enjoyable unless it's a relaxing massage. So I'll suggest they stretch while reading the newspaper or a book, surfing the net or watching TV. I think it's important to look at the whole routine of life along with the training to see where improvements in the process can be made.

The main question each athlete has to ask themselves to enjoy the process of training is how can I make this more enjoyable? Enjoyable doesn't necessarily mean fun. I like words like challenging, uplifting, encouraging, satisfying, fulfilling, outstanding, achievement. These are the feelings you want to get from your training and often it's just a matter of perspective. These are the feelings that lead to a successful process.

Mike: Thanks, that's a great perspective and this leads me to a few more questions: Do you find that many athletes have a problem letting go of being result focused? I have MANY athletes that come to me and say ?I want to race to this time at IM. Or I want to drop 5 minutes in my 10k. And as an experienced coach, you know as well as I do, that dropping from a 11:30 IM to 10:00 hours and qualifying for Kona, isn?t as easy as it sounds. So, what tools or tricks do you use to get the athlete away from the I want to hit this time in the race mentality?

Scott: Yeah, that's hard because you do want people to set ambitious targets to keep motivation high. I try to set intermediate targets with their input and always emphasize that those targets have to be reached in order to have a reasonable chance to hit the big targets but more importantly all of the training will have to be done to hit the intermediate goals. We have to agree on a training plan that they can hit 100%. Once they sign off on it then they have to do it. Then if they don't then I immediately suggest that they need to look at lowering their expectations of the short term goals and perhaps the long term goals and that if not reaching these goals puts too much of a damper on things then we need to re-look at the training to make that more enjoyable and realistic

Mike: What do you find as stumbling blocks with some of your athletes in getting them over a hurdle of a time or goal? Say an athlete can run 1:30 off the bike in an Half IM, yet in an IM they are running close to 4 hours ? what would your advice be to get that athlete to run to their potential?

Scott: I try to use examples of how much time it took other people to reach their goals for example Mark Allen racing in Kona 7 times before he won there, Lori Bowden racing there 8 times before she won, Gordo Byrn estimating it took him a million meters of swimming for every minute of improvement in an IM swim once he got to around an hour.. Etc. People need to know it takes a lot of work over a very long period of time even for people who are very good athletes to begin with and totally committed to the process. I know most people don't understand the commitment needed to make those huge gains. It's our job to help them gain that perspective.

As you can see, Scott is very good about keeping his athletes realistic with their goals. One important thing I took from this interview is that if you have a goal, and you know the training it's going to take to get there, and you can't meet those training goals, then you need to back off the ultimate race goal. I have seen many athletes short change themselves and think they had a bad race day because they didn't hit their goals, when in reality they had a great race if you consider how much time they were actually able to train.

In your quest to meet your racing goals, I have listed a few pointers below that will help you let go of the race day result, and let you be more focused on the process. In turn, I hope this allows you to reach your ultimate racing goals:

1. Learn to enjoy the training, and the results will take care of themselves

2. Sit down with your coach or training mentor and write down reasonable training goals that will allow you to reach your racing goals.

3. If for some reason, you can not hit all your training goals, you will need to adjust your racing expectations.

4. Make the training process enjoyable: Scott likes to use words like: challenging, uplifting, encouraging, satisfying, fulfilling, outstanding, achievement.

5. Understand that reaching long term goals takes years and look toward the example Scott gave of Lori Bowden and Mark Allen in Hawaii and how many attempts it took them to win that race.

6. Even if you are a good athlete and just starting out in triathlon re-read #5, and understand the commitment it takes to make those huge gains.

In summary, make your training challenging and fun. Assemble a group of like minded individuals and try something you think you might not even be able to do like a mega long workout for example. You'll probably be surprised at the result when you have others to inspire you and push you to new limits. Don't tie yourself to a race goal, but instead learn to enjoy the beauty of this sport, which is to go out there and find your limits on a daily basis. If you can do that, I am willing to bet you will be that much closer to your ultimate race goals.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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