Deliberate Practice in Endurance Sports

In the music world and skill based sports, you hear a lot about Deliberate Practice, which is deeply focused and meaningful practice.  It is the focus of many books like "Grit" by Angela Duckworth and "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell. Deliberate Practice, regardless of where it is applied, is exhausting and cannot be done for long periods of time.  

While it is easy to see where deliberate practice falls into place when mastering an instrument or trying to perfect a backhand in tennis, in endurance sports it is not as easy to see where deliberate practice falls.  It is not your typical aerobic run or standard bike workout.

Deliberate practice comes in the shape of workouts that stimulate the mental side of racing.  Whether it is a set of hard intervals on the bike or the last hour of a long ride, deliberate practice in endurance sports usually requires being in the hurt locker, finding the wall and blowing through it. 

While deliberate practice should not be done every day, but it is a very lethal weapon.  It should be used strategically to avoid injury, avoid burnout and to stay sharp mentally as the season does take a lot out of the tank.  The closer you get to race day, the more deliberate practice an athlete should do, while in the early season, that athlete may not touch a single one of those sessions.

Here are some examples of workouts which we view as deliberate practice for an Ironman 70.3.


  • 4x100 on an interval that gives 15 seconds rest swam at 95% maximal effort
  • 6x200 on an interval that gives 10 seconds rest swam slightly above race pace
  • 4x100 on an interval that gives 15 seconds rest swam slightly faster than the first set of 4x100s


Repeat the following 2 times:

  • 15 minutes at goal 70.3 watts
  • 2 minutes at 70.3 watts + 15%
  • 5 minutes at goal 70.3 watts
  • 1 to 5 minutes easy recovery


  • 30 minute at aerobic effort
  • Repeat the following 3 times
  • 1 mile at Ironman 70.3 pace
  • 30 second to 1 minute walk


Discussion question:  What workouts help you prepare mentally for your races?

Caitlin Glenn3 Comments