Several years ago, I took on an athlete who was around 20-30 min off of qualifying for Kona. I didn't really think that we needed to do anything magical between her self training and any "optimized" training. Sure there were some things she was doing that could be eliminated/revectored/fine tuned, but mainly the difference between her subsequent 3xKona and 3x70.3 Worlds and the athlete from before was just living the life of a Kona qualifier, doing everything small in day to day life with purpose and mainly taking each task to completion.
The fall when I took her on, my group was riding some hill intervals. Right before the top of the hill sign, if there was no one she was chasing, she would let up around 5-10m ahead and coast in.
I watched this happen for a few workouts and then the next time, I rode behind her and seeing it happen said, "I think you just gave up your Kona slot in those last 5 meters". She was unsure what I was getting and said, "I don't get it, I think I even beat the power number target and time up the climb". I said, "there is no doubt, that you have the engine, but you keep giving away time to the imaginary competition. Every interval up when you don't have to push it the line you are not. If the competition is in your face you will, but if they are no where to be seen, then you have to be self driven on every task. You can't see the competition. They may be a faster swimmer or slower swimmer or a faster runner. The only think you can do is get the lowest time our of yourself for each task".
And from there, we began a psychological mindset shift, and she became the master of taking every task to completion, leaving no money on the table if she could grab it. The finish line of every interval became an imaginary point past the finish. I think my ultimate example of this is Phelps beating Cavic at the Beijing Olympics for his 7th gold. Cavic in the lead coasting into the wall....Phelps keeps the pressure on and half strokes and jams his hand hard into the touch pad with more force than Cavic. Look who won!
What's your stories? For me, After 11x failures to get to Kona, when I transformed my mindset to the above at IMLP 2006, then I had a bit more success (OK, my hit rate is still bad, but the days I was on, I left no time on the table). 2010 at Kona + 70.3 Worlds, I was 45-49 combined T1+T2 world transition champion....that was all free speed with fitness needed. 2013 in St. Croix, I got a Kona slot by just moving through the aid station, when everyone kept stopping as it was a true sauna after a torrential rain storm....he would keep passing me until his stops got too long to re pass. I think after the mile 11 aid station, he could not get me back.