Its the start of the training season for Fall races. Many triathletes are in taper mode for long races they faced cold winter training for. Some people are just getting in the running groove for the first time. And others have been at this so long, they have long forgot those early days of training milestones and meltdowns. For all the above mentioned, there is a lot of focus on pacing, goal times, beating the clock, beating your last best … and beating yourself up if you don’t show yourself better for the training you have or haven’t done.
Not always a productive side effect to the wonderful world of endurance sports, but absolutely normal. Especially in an area driven by deadlines, demands, and the infectious quest to prove our ever best. As we have further advances in the technologies that track our training, measures of success and failure are stored, shared, posted, and analyzed – this trend is only getting more intense with each added pace and power meter on our equipment roster.
The problem as we all know is. One can’t always be faster than the last time. Watts can’t always be hit on target. Humidity does zap the life out of you and will take your well trained body to its knees if you stay mindful to your wrist not the weather.
So. To broaden our respect for the sport we train, the discipline we seek, and the times we hope to beat. I’d like to offer another measure to rely on on when data doesn’t prove its worth.
Being a better athlete. Not faster. Not stronger.
I started into this world of endurance sports later than some. At 32, I discovered that I was a runner. And that I could run. I’m all of 5’2 with a small frame and legs that make up the majority of my proportions. It makes sense. I took to the sport as a result quite readily. But my body soon taught me to respect it and the sport in ways I could not have imagined. My first year into the sport ended with a broken pelvis. My second year, a stress fracture in my ankle. Year three, a broken foot. After learning about shoes, better nutrition, strength training, venturing into multisport to ease the single sport pounding and such — the injuries were less often but I was still not without set backs. A broken rib, a broken knee cap, plantars, and more. Not a sound endorsement I know. But in fact its just what you need to hear. And just what you need to understand when it comes to learning and appreciating what getting better really means.
When you get injured, you have the opportunity to get better. Not just in healing what is broken. But in your awareness to how you got injured, what you need to differently to prevent it, how to manage the frustration of not being able to train, resetting your training/race calendar, and the opportunity to hone in on muscles you tend to ignore while you let your injured muscles heal.
The first such muscle to tend to. Your mind. With so many injuries early on, I learned it was my mind that was leading the charge in recovery and determination beyond all those who said this sport was not for me. Finding a doctor of like sport mind was key and very lucky for me as well — but the ability to take that set back and use it. Not just begrudge it. An absolute must! And from those many set backs, these essentials to getting better ALWAYS proved true:
– It means NOT training when told not to.
– It means when the doctor says 6 to 8 weeks – you wait 9.
– It means doing core /upper body strength work as your foot heals so you can carry more of the load when you return back to running.
– It means sitting with that forced time out and accepting that your body is sending you a message and you might want to listen so it doesn’t have to send it again. And again. Messages like… Are you taking rest days? Are you pushing too hard too fast on every workout? Are you rushing to be the best without letting your body build to being its best?
Injures are just one avenue of learning to getting good at being better. But the opportunity to be better is present with every training cycle, and every race you set to conquer. And seizing that opportunity will ease the mind field of disappointment when things aren’t on track otherwise.
Key components of being a better athlete.
– If this is your first year racing. Every race is an inaugural race. And is not to be compared but celebrated.
– If this is your tenth year racing, you are just getting the hang of things. Celebrate your experience and use your mind to establish the patience and strategy you need to be successful in racing – not just speed.
– If you only think of speed. Expand your thinking. Speed does not rule. Strong minds along with smart racing does.
– If you don’t make your goal, look to the lessons of the race as your prize and know it will pay dividends down the line. When I set out to qualify for Boston, I didn’t make it. And had to try again. And again. But along the way, I learned a lot about how to run a marathon and how not to as well, and good nuggets about myself that proved most valuable in the process.
– Honor your training don’t dismiss it. So often if a race doesn’t go as we hope, we begrudge all the effort we put into our training for such a failed outcome. Short answer. Remember the last time you were injured. And savor that you were able to train and stay healthy enough to start the race and finish it even if it wasn’t as you hoped.
– List ways to get better that aren’t measured on an app in balance to the data. I’m going to be more consistent with my nutrition, I’m going to smile more during races, I’m going to stay more focused throughout the race, I’m going to work on my mental mindset so I allow myself to stay positive and feel confident in training and racing.
– Take a break and race for fun. Or a charity. Or both. Remember the roots of your passion. And give back to them as an athlete, volunteer, and beyond.
– Break down elements of the race so you can have a victory within the day no matter what the day brings. (I didn’t beat last year’s time but I felt better at miles 11 and 12 and didnt bonk like I usually do, I was faster in transition, I remembered my bike shoes.)
– Most importantly… keep perspective. Winning is great, but some of our most valued races end up being those where we struggled most. It is then that we prove our willingness to endure the worst and are indeed better for it.
As the summer heats up and our efforts will be masked by the forces of Mother Nature. Embrace better. Because fast is not part of 100 degree days. Better is the runner who accepts and adapts. Respects and hydrates through it. And allows the patience of slower pacing and shorter miles that are doing the work that will show itself worthy now and in cooler days ahead.
– Coach T.