Docherty’s proven ability to perform when it matters begs the question: How does he do it? Asked that question, he responds, “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
But in all seriousness, there are a number of reasons for Docherty’s ability to perform under pressure, and one of them is that he always looks at the positive side of a situation. “I think you can find positives in anything,” Docherty said. “And, you know, the positive about not having won gold is it’s certainly keeping me motivated and certainly driving me to 2012.”
Another reason for his success, and one that Docherty is quick to bring up, is his coach. “I think I have a good ability to peak for a specific race,” Docherty said. “It’s not just me—it’s me and my coach, and that’s something that we’ve understood and learned throughout the years.”
His coach, Mark Elliott, the high performance director for Cycling New Zealand, started to learn the ins and outs of triathlon in 1996, when he worked for Triathlon New Zealand as a physiotherapist. Traveling with the national athletes, he became the “eyes and ears for every other coach,” he said. When the other coaches weren’t around, he was the guy who was taking all of the times and information and feeding them back to each athlete’s coach. Besides being the physio, he was the de facto logistics guy, the manager and the athlete adviser. Very quickly, and perhaps most importantly, he learned “where athletes were going wrong,” he said.
Elliott looks at a taper in terms of an entire season, as opposed to the last few days before a race. “For most people, [tapering] is about what athletes do in the last week or 10 days. But it’s actually what you do in the 10 months beforehand,” Elliott said.
The training that Elliott maps out for Docherty includes anywhere from 30 to 35 hours per week of running, biking and swimming at the top end of a cycle. Docherty generally has one key run set and one long run, which is about two hours. He also does two key brick sessions: One is usually an easy 20 minutes of running off of a long bike, and the other is an intense session on the trainer followed by a 3K to 4K timed run. He swims six times a week, averaging about 5K per day. Of the six swims, two are likely to be key sessions, which are often lactate threshold workouts done on very little rest, with the main set being around 3,000 meters.
Elliott says that the focus with Docherty’s program is quality and not quantity, and Docherty prides himself on his high training intensity. Asked if Docherty trains harder than most, Elliott responds, “I can only comment on the other athletes I know, and yes, he does. I mean, most guys who’ve ever gone and spent time with him appreciate the intensity. It’s not a two-hour jog in the park—it’s a two-hour steady state, and for most athletes that’s full on.”
New Zealander and professional triathlete Graham O’Grady knows full well what it’s like to train with Docherty—he spent nine months in 2010 training in Santa Cruz while he lived with Docherty and his family. “I was looking forward to racing a few times, just because I knew the racing would be easier than the training,” he said. “And then when I’m racing, I just think, ‘I’m doing a long run with Bevan.’”
Recovery—and Docherty’s ability to stay injury free—also plays a part in his consistency and success on the ITU circuit. Elliott focuses on ensuring Docherty has “good phases of recovery,” he said. And he insists that Docherty ramps up his training load gradually. “You don’t go from 40K a week to 120K,” Elliott said. When Docherty takes time off after the season, he still runs every few days, just to stimulate his bones and muscles. This helps ensure that he’ll stay healthy in the third or fourth week back from his break, which is a period when athletes are particularly vulnerable to getting hurt, Elliott said. Docherty also does about 95 percent of his running off-road, something he believes helps him prevent tweaks, tears and fractures. And he takes one day every week completely off.
Docherty’s preparation is all well and good, but when it comes down to race day, an athlete has to know how to dig deep. Fortunately, this is something Docherty does well. He abides by something that he calls the “Docherty Family Motto,” which holds that the “pain of regret is far worse than the pain of pushing yourself.”