Last week, I was getting my legs worked on to help loosen them from the burden and swelling of pregnancy. The doctor was trying to stretch out my hips when he noticed how tight they were. You can make a lot of excuses for what is going on in your body but when a doctor is actually holding your body, you really can’t hide.
Have you been stretching, he so perceptively asked.
The short answer was no. The long excuse was: because it’s really uncomfortable in pregnancy, it doesn’t feel right.
Before I even got the entire sentence out, I realized how ridiculous I sounded. Did I just use pregnancy as an excuse? Shame on me. He looked at me, with little sympathy, and very matter-of-factly said:
Adapt and overcome.
Sometimes as athletes we just need to hear it like that. We don’t need someone to sympathize with us or make us feel ok. The best doctors, coaches, mentors know that you don’t need to commiserate, you need to activate (which is different then rahrah motivate – that’s what cheerleaders do). We need someone to look us in the face and point blank give us a “buck up and put on your big girl pants”. It’s like what Shawn told the Ironman group last year when they were worried about it raining on race day:
Sometimes you can’t make it any clearer than that.
Needless to say, I have gone back to stretching. But I’ve been thinking about excuses a lot because when your business is people and you are telling these people to go boldly into their discomfort zone day in and day out, you hear a lot of excuses. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying. Excuse management is sometimes the work of the coach.
Recently, I was talking to an athlete about a race. They had gone into the race very fit, hitting their goal numbers in training. Taper went well, they were healthy and all signs pointed to the race they wanted. But then on race day, something happened. They got halfway through the race, the numbers were a little behind what they wanted and at that point they gave themselves permission to back off. They told themselves they could just try again at another race.
We had a very honest discussion about how we both felt about that. In part, I think they were looking for me to say “that’s ok, you can try another day”. But honestly I didn’t feel that way. I think when you go to a race or a workout, whether it’s going your way or not – you give it 100 percent until you cross that finish line. Anything can happen out there. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances to this rule (illness, injury, safety risk, etc). But in most cases of giving up, the athlete is healthy and capable; the race just wasn’t playing out according to their plan. They gave themselves permission to mentally check out and physically give it less.
This is the art of making excuses with ourselves. The little negotiations that we allow to happen when we are at our most vulnerable – whether we are halfway through a marathon, facing a hard 10K off the bike, at the start of a long swim. Our mind is keenly aware of when we will be at our weakest and most open to suggestion. The suggestion that it’s ok to back off or give it less. In other words, it’s ok to fail.
These negotiations become a slippery slope. We see a windy day and think that instead of facing it on the track, we’ll use the treadmill. We see a chance of rain predicted and decide to ride indoors. Our legs feel tired so we stop trying. Can you see where I’m going with this? After getting into the habit of negotiations, we risk that unless everything is going perfectly, we will give ourselves permission to make an excuse for giving up or giving it less in any situation.
In over 10 years of racing, nothing has ever gone perfectly for me. Truth be told, the “perfect” race doesn’t exist. We hope for it, chase after it but…it’s not out there. My best races were some of the “worst” situations. The time when my bike didn’t arrive in Texas. Showing up at worlds to compete in pouring rain. The days that were 95 with equal humidity. The days where it was 38. I raced them all. I gave it my best. Not because I’m better than anyone else – hardly – but because I made it a habit of giving it my best no matter what was facing me.
How do you get out of the pattern of making excuses when things aren’t going your way or when things are hard? You have to expect things of yourself and then you actually have to practice. Expect that you’ll give it your best. Expect that you’ll embrace the challenge. Then, get after it! Practice. In as many workouts as possible, as many days of the week as you can. Don’t give yourself permission to run on the treadmill because it’s raining. Get out there! Why? As you make it your expectation and practice, you get tough. When you are tough, you accept less excuses from yourself until you finally get to the point where you no longer make them.
It really is that simple.
I was talking to some Ironman athletes recently. I warned them about making excuses. The longer your race distance, the more opportunity for making excuses. I’ve heard them all. It’s hard to drink when I’m riding. I don’t like riding alone. 3500 yards is a really long way to swim. This is a lot of training. This is really hard.
The world’s smallest violin is somewhere playing.
It’s not that I don’t feel their pain. I do. I’ve been there, done it. And I know that it’s hard – it’s an endurance sport, it’s never easy. It’s just that…sometimes we need a reality check with ourselves. If any of this was easy, everyone would do it, everyone would be fast, everyone would win. That’s not the case. Ironman training – heck ANY of this training - is not fast food, press a button and you’re there. You’ve got to work if you want to win. And when I say winning, I just mean achieving what your version of winning is. Most know that winners aren’t the fastest, they just did everything better than everyone else. How they win is all about how they go about their training and what goes on in their head. When push comes to shove, when the forecast calls for high winds, when they’re just not feeling it, they’re not making excuses. They’re just making the interval. They make it happen out there.
What does this have to do with adapt and overcome? We all face challenges. Whether it’s a pace plan that isn’t going to plan, a pregnancy, an off day at work, a long swim, a 12 hour week of training – it’s hard. We all get that. But that alone is not an excuse. It’s a reason. It’s a reason to do it better, give it a little more and focus on it. Adapt and overcome or you risk becoming your own worst enemy. The enemy part of yourself that lets you bitch, moan, complain, excuse away anything you do (or don’t do) in order to make you feel better about yourself.
If you want to achieve your goals and make progress, you sometimes have to put up a fight with yourself. Nip the negotiations before they start. Go rock solid into a race or key workout with a set plan and be ready to bring out the big guns when that little voice in your head says…but it’s windy today, we can stop giving it out best. Silence that. Instead, just hear and listen to the truth; take time to stretch, if you’re behind then work the second half of the race harder, lose 10 pounds, nut up, do the work, get over your bad self.
Another athlete was talking about a race. They had a strong swim/bike and then underperformed on the run. I asked them why they did that (because, in a race you do things, you choose how you’ll respond). They paused, thought about it and said “because I pussied out.”
There were a dozen excuses they could have made: it was humid, it was my first race, it was windy, I didn’t do enough track workouts…..trust me, as a coach, I’ve heard countless excuses that point to everything else but the real reason. The reason was – YOU. You made that choice. You chose to pussy out.
In their words, realizing that was the kick in the ass they needed.
Why do we pussy out or make an excuse? Most often it’s because we got into that habit of allowing it from ourselves (see above) or because of fear. Fear fuels us at times but more often it stops us. We fear the what if (what if it hurts too much, what if I get injured, what if blow up, what if I get that side cramp I always get). Until you look that fear in the face, flip it the bird and accept no excuses from yourself, you will never make progress. And you’ll cross that finish line with a dozen what ifs left unanswered.
When you cross the finish line this season, let there be no what ifs. No questions. No what if I gave it more, if only it wasn’t raining, I should have would have could have pushed harder those last few miles. By all means race smart, pace yourself and fuel well. But when it comes to how you mentally handle it, be unafraid, make no excuses and no matter what happens out there - adapt to and overcome it.
At the end of the day, the race, there is no excuse. There’s just you and what you did. That’s all that counts. They don’t post race results with the disclaimer of: but really everyone went 10 minutes faster because the water was choppy and it was windy out there today. You did the time you did, bottom line. Should have would have could have doesn’t count. All that counts is what you did.
What are you going to do today?