While I was in Kona this past month, I ran into a young female who plans to turn professional next year. (I won't state her name or age-group, so she can remain anonymous.) In our conversation she mentioned she had recently started training with power, but didn't know her FTP. This in the final weeks/months heading into Kona. I proceeded to ask her many other questions about her training and fitness which she couldn't answer objectively with numbers.
She told me she felt confident she had 8 years of professional racing ahead, and could do well, reaching a high level by the end of her career.
I told her, "You don't have 8 years, you have 4, at the most." She was a bit offended by what I said, but my point was clear, she needs a sense of urgency. She can't work through it, make some common training and racing mistakes, and reach a high level of racing. This girl isn't going to win an Ironman in her first year, probably not 2 years, at least not at the current commitment level. If she wants to really race at a high level, she needs a sense of urgency and a commitment to match it, right now.
She can't make mistakes in training. She can't waste training days. She can't show up to races and not perform well. If she really wants to make a career out of it, she has to produce right away, because it is only going to get tougher in 2-4 years. If she is happy with small improvements over the next 2 years, she won't last beyond 4. The girls in Ironman are getting faster and stronger, breaking records like crazy, while the men's race is relatively stagnant in peak performance, but depth is improving all the time.
In 2007, Chrissie Wellington and Sam McGlone ran faster than anyone had ever seen a female run in Kona. In October 2013, just six years later, Carfrae ran 10 mins faster than those girls, and 4 other girls in the top 6 ran times that rank as some of the fastest run splits for women ever at the race. 4 to 8 years from now, what we will be saying? What will we see after the next Olympic cycle and many of those Olympic girls realize their short course days are numbered and decide to move up to long course? And make no mistake, the quality of the racing at the Olympic level is higher than it is has ever been. Carfrae left it because she couldn't compete at a high enough level. Those girls are coming, and they will be here soon.
And the thing is, it is not just the pro women's race. The age group races are getting ridiculously fast, with some age groupers going sub 9 and only managing 8th place in their age group! in 2009 and 2010 I put two guys in the top 8 in their age group in Kona, and now they struggle to crack the top 20 in that AG there.
If you don't have a sense of urgency in training and racing, you're going to struggle to stay at a high level in the sport, whether you're a neo-pro, a top pro, or a top level age grouper. The depth and quality of the competition is getting better by the day, so don't waste time.