Sunday, November 27, 2011

it takes a village

Torrential rain.  Perfect time to catch up on notes I wanted to get down on paper in the off-season.
mud meets backside, way to go Laura!

Instead of splattering mud left and right at yesterday's Canadian XC champs up my backside, I was cheering on the sidelines, missing racing only a little, but not enough on a day like yesterday to actually be lining up on the start line.  After a good rest & recovery period (and a very stubborn virus), this race fell too close to the beginning of my return back to training, and I wasn't quite ready.  Yes, I am fit enough to run 7km in the mud, but I wasn't fit enough to race.  Running and racing are very different things.  Fitness is not always physical.

The bottom line was that I wasn't fit enough to race after just beginning to touch on interval running the week of the race, but the icing on the cake of the decision is that I also wasn't confident enough to race.  But I'm confident enough to tell you that.  The irony!  This race was not really a huge deal to me, but it has illustrated a point.  I had unshakeable confidence going into my big races this year.  I took it for granted - and I realized how lucky I was that I had this super-power by my side all year.

All of a sudden I found myself listing all sorts of reasons why I shouldn't run, then I realized I didn't want to run, and it really threw me for a loop.  I almost always want to race, despite obstacles or disadvantages.  I'm good at racing.  I like racing.  Finally it boiled down to me being really honest with myself, and realizing that without confidence, I was at a huge disadvantage.  Why I had confidence all through the year is a combination of all sorts of factors, some of which I was born with, and some of which have been gifts given to me by a village of support.  Sitting with myself at that moment of realization, I learned just how powerful confidence can be.  I stopped feeling badly for myself when I realized I had learned a really important lesson, and wore as much waterproof clothing as I could to cheer on my teammates, cowbell and camera in hand.

this, is cross country.

As people are winding down their race seasons, or just starting to rebuild again, it may be beneficial as you breakdown your strengths and weaknesses, to include a little psychology in your training as well.  Yeah, yeah, you say as you read what I write.  'I'll do that', 'that'll happen anyways', you think.  Hmmm...maybe.  Or maybe you'll keep smashing your head on the same wall year after year.  I have not been in this sport very long, but I have been a reasonably diligent student of the sport, especially in 2011.  I've noticed a few trends that I've tried to steer clear of.  I'm not going too far down this road, but I want to point out the fact that within your sore-armed, breathless lung-ed, wobbly legged, aching ab-muscled, popped out veined body, you've got a brain.  Do you ever train it?

I've had a LOT to learn in triathlon.  I had a very successful year.  There are lots of factors that tie into why that came to be.  I had a lot of help, but I was always thinking about what I was doing too.  I am a smart athlete.  Sounds simple?  Somewhat.

A race like Ironman is a beast.  It's big, it's tough, it scares us.  I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in completing our abundant, perhaps superfluous, training sessions to build up our 'toughness' against the event.  Fair enough.  But if you're just getting the workouts 'done', you're really missing so many opportunities to strengthen yourself as you go along.

Everyone's life is different, and everyone has different opportunities in life & training, this I realize.  But everyone has an opportunity to pay attention to themselves.  Best of all - it's free.  Example.  Spend $6000 on a new bike or pay attention to your pedal stroke? (and get the same result either way).  No, I mean, really, pay attention (and that doesn't just mean do one-legged drills badly and move on to hammering your intervals).  Don't know what to pay attention to?  Read an article, for free online, go try things out and think about how it felt.  Trust a cyclist to teach you, even if he or she has never donned a speedo or a Garmin.  Have a power meter that gives you all the data you'll ever need, so you can tune out?  Ever considered swimming, riding or running by feel and judging yourself by your own supercomputer, your brain?

I could go on, but what has really confused me watching and listening to other athletes is how disconnected and frustrated they get when the physical and mental faculties don't connect.  There is always a place for learning, in my mind, in every session you do.  I think sometimes we have to stop completing workouts with a focus on about 'perfecting' a training session, hitting all your splits and ticking the boxes.  Ever heard of the phrase, "there's no such thing as a perfect race"?  So why do we have so many perfect training sessions?  Hmm.  A bit back-asswards.

I would be amiss to say you should throw out all your goals for each training session, but spend a little time with a focus on how your brain and body work together as you go along.  Pay attention to that relationship.  It's not easy, to be in the moment, and it's especially hard if you are not liking what you're doing.  I think one of the reasons I've been successful is that for the most part (let's be real, it's not ALL the time), I love what I do, and quite often I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but 'in the moment' of training.

Here are some examples from my training and what I'm working on, and maybe it will help you pick some things to work on over the winter, a great time to start paying attention to yourself.

Core strength: I actually have reasonably good strength, but I wasn't born with abs (technically...yes I was, but you know what I mean - in all actuality, I was born with a hole in my abs).  I do core, yes to be stronger, but I also do it with a mindset that I want to be able to find those stabilizer muscles in my exercises so I can find them on my run or when powering up a hill on my bike.  I spend a lot of time memorizing the feel of certain muscles so I know what to 'recruit' when running or biking gets tough, and requires full body effort.

Swimming:  I have a wonky left arm that loves to go rogue underwater.  As much as I can I'm telling it to keep a certain pattern, get in the right spot and stay there.  I have to tell my arm to be patient and not hurry through the stroke so the big boss right arm can take over.  They are learning to share.  This at times, is exhausting in the pool, and eventually I need a break - but then it's time to think about my kick.  It never ends.  And if you're in my lane, sometimes I'm thinking about your stroke too.

my back pocket may or may not be full of salt water taffy.  and fudge.

Biking:  I always found it interested that people are recruited for national teams on their swim and run talents.  The more I ride a bike, the more complex it seems to be.  I am basically trying to make my two legs one unit.  One smooth, unbreakable force.  It is SO difficult and I can only focus on it for short periods of time before I'm distracted by either a) pretty snow covered mountains outside or b) how much sweat is running down my face inside, or c) how much I wish I was eating a donut in Deep Cove.  But I keep going back to it.  This is one of my biggest goals of all time at the moment.

Running:  It's the thing I'm best at and yet it still confounds me with it's intricacies.  As it relates to core strength, I'm working on recruitment in running.  When I felt my most fit, going into Ironman Canada this year, I could feel an entirely new muscular set of muscles working for me, specifically, my backside (top to bottom, not just the centrepiece, kids).  I had finally balanced out the front to back, and the side to side.  I have endurance up the ying-yang, but I had finally started to harness 'power'.  My theory is that power (greater than 10 seconds) has to come from stability, so to get these all to work in symphony you have to have done the work to make it work.  You also have to use your brain to work to stay in a position where you can fire all these muscles, because if you don't, I think the body falls prey to the path of least resistance.  That path may maintain your position, but I don't think it elevates you to higher ground.

So if you are like me, planning races, planning a new year, a challenging year ahead of you, perhaps start planting your brain-seeds now, and start using your noggin to your advantage.  Your brain: not just a place to put your aero-helmet.

Unlike the 'smart' phone, which appears to do everything for you, be a 'smart' athlete, where you start doing more things for yourself.  As far as I know, there's no App for that.

Happy winter training kids.

1 comment:

  1. A well and sincerely-written article. There's no question that without a calm, focused mind, the fittest racer will become a festering pile of pus on the side of the road/trail/drowned. Keep writing mookus!