Monday, February 28, 2011

On The Clock

Today I received an email from a woman with 5 children who reads my blog. She thanked me for writing. I thanked her for reading. I also realized if a woman with 5 children has time to read my blog then certainly this woman with one child has time to write one!

I’ve been busy. Who isn’t? Between work, workouts, mommy duties, wife duties (which are sometimes the hardest – you mean, I have to be nice and pleasant after a day of dealing with everything else and the world’s smallest poop machine!?). And so, I haven’t had much time to write about real life. Triathlon is not real life. It’s something we all do to escape the reality of life or challenge us when the pace of life doesn’t move quite up to our speed.

Balancing all of that? Leaves me busy. Yes, we the multisporters, are master multi-taskers. Perhaps all these years of endurance multisports prepared me for parenthood. Well, not really. You see, in multisport you can control the level of pain; speed up, slow down. In parenting, someone else controls it. Take, for example, the pain of listening to a child whine non stop all day can you stop -say- about 4 hours ago yesterday?

I’ll take a 40K time trial please.

Gender studies have shown that women are wired to multitask. Throw ten balls at us and we will juggle them. While drinking our coffee.


Speaking of coffee, the other day it finally hit me: I really just want a good cup of regular coffee. I am about two sips away from giving up this decaf shit but at the same time getting profound satisfaction from knowing that I control coffee, IT DOES NOT CONTROL ME! (not yet)

Even decaffeinated, these days I can cram more into ten minutes while most people would spend an hour walking around in a circle muttering to themselves deciding where to begin. In that time I’ve fed the baby, answered some emails, caught up on world news on the radio, let the dog out and downloaded my Power Tap.

I’m that good. I was destined for it. It’s all in my wiring. But like anything in life, it’s taken me time to find that type of rhythm. Say, about 7 months. Max is now 7 months. Finally I feel like I am getting the hang of him. Sshhh…I can’t say that too loud because I swear, once he catches a hint of my plans he immediately plots to foil them. Like this morning when he woke up at 5:45 am. He must have heard me thinking last night that I would get up at 5:15 am to have at least 90 minutes to myself to … hmm….eat, work, maybe just pee?

I can’t be the only mother who walks around the house one inch away from peeing myself when I remind myself it’s ok to take the time to pee. He can wait, right?

Something you need to do by the time they reach 7 months: get portraits. At first I was hesitant – is this yet another bullshit rite of passage (read: scam) like birthing classes, Disneyland and Santa Claus? Maybe but I don’t regret spending 15 minutes in the Target portrait studio for this:


He’s even cuter in person. And not a word about the man boobs! He's healthy!

Seven months is an exciting age. I suppose I’ll be saying that until he’s about 15 when I declare that 15 years is a highly irritating age, how soon until college? And how far away can he go while I can still afford it? But at 7 months each day is an adventure in learning and exploring. Something as simple as the first floor is uncharted territory waiting to be explored. Better yet, mouthed. He’s discovered that the house is full of things to pull off of shelves, carpet tassels to be eaten and low lying areas to wedge himself into.

Also exciting – solid foods. Get familiar with your purees, my friends, because it’s only a matter of years before we all find ourselves eating it again when we are elderly. When I am, I’d like to request a mix of blueberries and roasted apples and anything with avocado. I remember I couldn’t wait until Max was ready to eat solid foods imagining the fun in his discovery of mushified fruit and vegetable (goodnight, mush). And then I started feeding him. I don’t know how it’s possible but you can be covered head to toe in pureed spinach. Him and me.

The most challenging part of my day is not the workouts, the work, making food for Max or remembering the let the dog back inside after I’ve let him out, it’s carrying around an 18 pound child. I actually had to see my active release therapist not because of what I was doing in training but because I was being mommy. Note to athletic moms: don’t carry your kid on your hips. Your hips are meant for either mothering or running, not both. Now I carry him in front of me, like a shield of baby that I wear on my chest. Great for my hips, not so great for my back. Back to the active release therapist.

You’re just getting sore from being mommy.

Awesome. I can run marathons and ride my bike for a hundred miles but can’t carry my own kid around the house without near injury. I’m not sure what to do next. He’ll just keep getting heavier and my back will keep getting sorer. Maybe I’ll wear him on my back? I realize the real answer might be how soon until he walks but then I’ll probably trade in my sore back for plantar fasciitis from chasing him.

It’s a challenge to find time to actually “recover” from my training, if recovery means sitting, napping, relaxing and eating. Some days I look at the clock and realize that while every other living thing in the house has eaten, somehow I forgot me. Between that and going up and down the stairs roughly 100 times a day AND working out you’d think that I would be less than my pre-pregnancy weight. But that is not the case. That might have something to do with a co-dependent relationship on chocolate when it is in the house. That is why I often do not bring it into the house. But since my manorexic husband (how can a man whose daily diet includes corn chips and beer keep losing weight?) is doing the grocery shopping lately, all bets are off. I actually had him hide the peanut butter cups the other day. Then a week later I spotted them. I made it to 1 pm without eating one. The serving size is three so I at another two. An hour later I decided what’s six when you’ve already eaten three?

This has nothing to do with me not dropping 5 pounds. That has everything to do with the scale obviously needing new batteries.

I used to think that staying at home and being a mom would be easy. I started my own business because I had a passion for it and because I wanted to have a career I could do from home while raising my child(ren). There are some days I wish I could go to an office. Don’t get me wrong - I adore the opportunity to be home with my child. But there are days where I long for a reason to get dressed or for a conversation that doesn’t involve da da da followed by a few raspberries. For that reason, I will say this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Of course one of the most exciting and gratifying things but socially and personally challenging. When your job is to take care of another individual, most of your needs get pushed aside until you find yourself at the kitchen counter saying:

DAMMIT GO PEE ALREADY!

The other night, I went out with a friend who also stays at home with her now 3 year old daughter. Every time we go out, we go out for wine. We moms have a (healthy) relationship with wine. I realized this last week when it was Tuesday and I found myself daydreaming about a big glass of Chambourcin. On Saturday I made this dream come true. Twice. It was glorious.

So we went for wine and we were talking about the important things – like how I was wearing something other than yoga pants and how she took the time to straighten her hair because we were going out. In mommy terms, both of those are big investments of time without a lot of return. You straighten your hair and I guarantee you an hour later you will have bananas in it. You put on real clothes and I guarantee and hour later they will be barfed upon. So you fall into this routine of being safe and comfortable. Some call it “messy”. I’ll just walk around in pajamas because by the time the day buzzes by I’ll need to be in them again anyways. Underwear – optional. Bedhead – accepted. Odds that you’ll also be wearing poop – in your favor. And, sense of humor about it all – mandatory.

She works for a big organization from time to time teaching professionals how to put on high impact presentations. She gets out of the house, puts on business attire and articulates big words in her speech. She loves it because it doesn’t involve playing princess for 12 hours straight. Over wine, we shared our experiences. I told her my favorite day of the week is Tuesday, when I drive into Chicago to teach at Well-Fit. The reason: I am surrounded by adults, I am having adult conversations, getting adult feedback. True that I work from home but most of it online. My computer never talks back to me. Instead my days are filled with baby talk or talking to the dog in yips and growls.

It’s not the same thing.

Nothing replaces adult interaction. It feeds me socially and emotionally. All stay at home moms need to hear this. At home, by yourself with child = hard work. And trust me, I’ve had some hard jobs. I spent 7 years working for an organization that spent 3 weeks deciding what color font to use on our name tags. Seriously. But parenting – perhaps the biggest challenge yet. I used to think running my own business was difficult. I had to do everything – from development to human resources to accounting to maintenance. And then I had a child. This is harder. Because now someone else is right there needing things right now. His waiting skills – limited at best. His moods – unpredictable. His tendency to completely soil himself right after I’ve spent 10 minutes getting him clean and dressed before leaving the house – highly likely.

As you can imagine, we have to get out of the house for sanity. Sometimes we go to the bookstore. Or even shopping. Once you’re a parent though, something changes about shopping. You find yourself excited about going to the Carter’s outlet. And absolutely beside yourself when you find this:


This bib cracked my shit up. I’m not sure if it’s the helmet or the fact that that dinosaur obviously needs to be told his seat is too high.

To get out, I also signed us up for some activities. Today I signed up for storytime at the library, Diaper Dippers and music class. Around these parts, those are dangerous activities. I’m going to have to mix in with the other suburban moms who drive mini vans while driving their kid from one overscheduled activity to the next. I won’t drive our mini van (it’s Chris’ dream bike machine, not mine) but I still feel like I’m one degree away from putting a Baby on Board sign in the rear window or applying one of those stick figure family stickers to the rear window. You know, a figure for me, Chris, Max and Boss. Yeah, I’d be one of them.

Incidentally, my neighbor has a stick figure on her rear window that is a man, a woman and 4 cats. Underneath it says House of Twelve Paws. My athletes will tell you that my addition is shoddy at best but even after pulling out my calculator I cannot for the life of me figure out how that math adds up. 4 cats, 4 legs each, 16 paws. I just don’t get it.

But then I realize that I am lucky. So lucky to have designed my life to have the opportunity to watch Max's development unfold before me. I never miss a thing. I know why he cries. I know when he needs to nap. I know when he’s hungry. I understand him because I know him because I’m with him. For that, I am very, very lucky.

No matter how challenging or isolating each day can feel at times, I look back at each day and find myself smiling. Max is hilarious. He is a whole lot of Waterstraat but even more Fedofsky. Like Chris, he is a little engineer exploring the physical properties of everything. Like me, he has a lot of focused intensity. Watching him grow is one of the most incredible experiences and I get to see it every day. It's so amazing that I’ve already named his little brother. Someone asked me, you’re going to go up to bat again? Unless Chris magically grows ovaries, yes I will have to do it again. Am I looking forward to gaining a third of my body weight and sweating like the crazy man wearing sweatpants and doing jumping jacks in the dry sauna – no. But being on the other side now and fitting back into most of my clothes – ok, I can embrace the idea of doing it again.

Although there is no hurry.

And thus concludes nap time. No, not for me. A nap – ha! (please, don’t make me laugh. I’ve been holding my pee all day) Max is waking up and while most of us can wake up and lay there quietly thinking is it really morning again or COFFEE(!), Max goes from zero to all tears streaming in a matter of seconds. Like he’s alone in the wilderness of his crib left as coyote bait. For crying out loud, I’M COMING! One day we’ll work on those waiting skills. Until then, I’m back on the clock working on the next cycle of activity; play, eat, play, poop, sleep. At times the simplicity of it is refreshingly grounding.

If you have kids, I’d like to say – good job being mommy or daddy today. You don’t hear it nearly enough (we won’t even get into hearing “thanks”, I realize now that I owe my mom about 4000 backlogged thank you’s) and there is no bonus waiting except for the little smiles, hugs and cuteness that we get throughout the day. It’s hard work but then again that stuff makes for a pretty good paycheck. So, to all of you parents out there - good job today! Let's wake up and do it again tomorrow for - oh - the next, what, 18+ years?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Here, Now

On Saturday, we flew to Phoenix to kick off the 2011 season.

We arrived early Saturday to a steady rain and chilly temperatures. Race day also called for rain and chilly temperatures. Not to worry, I’ve just spent the last few months living below 32 degrees. Chilly is all relative. Late Saturday afternoon, I did a short spin on Sherpa Thomas’ trainer and with a pause in the rain, for 15 minutes, I did a short run. I felt as ready as I could be. My wheels haven’t hit pavement since September and I’ve only run outside twice in the past 4 weeks. I didn’t sleep the two nights before the race because Max didn’t sleep well. I’m still carrying around a few extra pounds (if you’d like them, I am happy to send them to you!) which makes me wonder if my race uniform even fits me.

I have a dozen other reasons why I should be scared of racing but none of them matter. Not if I’m going to achieve this year’s goals. And what better time to start than now. We only get stronger when we face our fears and accept our weaknesses. It would be safer to wait until May to race. It would be wiser to start the process now. If I’m going to create my own comeback, I have to take responsibility for my success – for better or worse, fast or slow. I have to get out there and work at becoming a fitter, faster version of myself.

Before going to bed, I took the time to think through my race. I always write out the timeline of my race, fueling plan, my goals and a few key thoughts to keep myself focused. My goal was to be top 3 in my age group. My super secret stretch goal was top 3 overall. We set goals realistically from our training. We set stretch goals by being unafraid of asking ourselves – what if. I told Jen it would be work to be in the top 3 but I was willing to work for it.

Goals are important but more importantly – how. How will you get there? You’ve arrived with the training, so what will it take beyond that to achieve your goal. I wrote down these words: here, now. You see, when you come back into the sport - whether after an bad season, an injury or a baby, you’re always looking back or thinking ahead. Inevitably you compare yourself to the former version of yourself and you wonder if you’ll ever get back there. Is my fitness ahead or behind? I needed to let that go. Let go who I was and even who I want to be. Instead race here and now. Race in the moment, don’t look back and don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Be here, now.

Sunday morning. Race day. We’ve done this race a few times before; two trail runs, a bike course on chip sealed roads that seems to go only one way – up. This year, they made some changes. The run courses were longer. They were significantly more technical on a mountain bike course with twists, turns, sand, rocks and hills at times so steep, it seemed more efficient to walk. The new run courses were by far the most challenging off road courses I have ever done!

I’ve always felt the best seasons start with duathlon. Duathlons make you tough. Swimming first is a lovely way to warm up for the day. Running first is like a cold shower. There are more pleasant ways to start the day but none will wake you up as quick. The first run is like an open run race. You run – hard, fast. On to the bike, your legs hit the pedals and immediately burn. Your legs hit the ground for the second run with protest. Duathlon is a painfully raw challenge.

By the time we arrive at the race site, I am pumped with 16 ounces of fully leaded coffee. I haven’t had real coffee since my last race. I tell Thomas I feel like an animal but I also feel like I have to pee myself. The worst part about duathlon – it’s not ok to pee yourself. After 100 trips to the porta potty, it’s time to warm up. The morning is chilly but the warm up leaves me feeling good and ready. Legs are firing. The pre race excitement is building. I’m here, now. I’m racing!

The start line. I line up at the front. A girl next to me asks what pace I plan to run. Bold question! But I don't know. I know what speed I can run but on this course it won’t mean a thing. Yesterday’s rain left the sandy course spongy and ready to absorb my feet. Better yet, my speed. Add to that rocks, steep hills – I might run 6:30s or 8:30s. Whatever it takes today. In fact, I didn’t even turn on my watch. My plan was just to race – do what needed to be done without worrying about how far or fast. The course wasn’t marked. The aid station was somewhere maybe half way. I was racing naked, in a sense. Let someone else set the pace and then go with them.

The start horn goes off. Ease into it. About 5 women ahead of me bolt. Steady. You’ll get there. Within the first half mile I worked my way up to them. A woman hung on my shoulder and every time she got close, I picked it up. If you’re going to race at the front, you’ve got to race tactically. Make her work for it. We take a left turn on to the trail and I see the top two women ahead. One of them is 17 years old. Give her another 30 seconds, she’ll blow up. She did. Then it’s just me and the leader. We run side by side.

I feel good. The pace is controlled. I am next to the girl leading the race. Behind her, next to her, ahead of her. The trail becomes a series of ups and downs. I outdescend her. She then comes right back to me. This is racing. This is what I missed. She picks up the pace. I go with her. The downhills are brutal. The sand makes every landing sketchy. Rocks are scattered everywhere. A woman comes up behind me and then makes a move. I’m convinced I will either twist an ankle or fall face first on a downhill. If only my treadmill had a technical trail setting I might feel prepared for this. HERE. NOW. Keep them within your sight. Finally transition is within sight. I enter transition in 3rd place. The leader is about 30 seconds ahead.


Transition is a quick sandy blur and I’m out on the bike. I pass a woman to put myself into second place. Now hold it. The first part of the course is mostly downhill at over 25 mph. We ride on the shoulder. There is gravel. There are other riders. I’m shouting on your left. I’M RACING! Somewhere in the first 10 miles I get passed by another woman. I keep her in sight. Just keep chasing. We’re going uphill. Just big gear work on the trainer in my head. Another woman passes me. GO WITH HER! I work harder to keep her in sight. It’s hard but not enough.
Back into the park, we begin a 6 mile climb on chip seal. Another girl passes me. I pass her back. She passes me. We play this game. And then she outdescends me somewhere and I lose her from sight. I lost a little focus. I actually did lose part of my bike from the roughness on the road but needed to get back into the race. I see no one ahead nor behind. I’m riding now in 5th place. Here, now, stay with it.

Finally back to transition. I don’t see any women ahead. Nor behind. My legs – ouch. The run seems hillier, more technical and rougher than the first run. Focus, here and now. Can you give it more? Some hills appear in front of me like a dirt wall. I pass a few men. Where are the women? I wonder if I’m pushing hard enough. I’m breathing loud. My legs hurt. Am I giving it enough? Will I finish the race satisfied?

Coming up the last hill, I see Chris. He tells me there are 400 meters to go. He later tells me I looked as red as my red race outfit. All of you, Liz – your face, your arms.

I was really hurting!

The race is done. I finished 2nd in my age group, 5th overall, about 3 ½ minutes from the overall winner. This a good start. I raced today for the truth I would find in racing and here's what I found: I need to run faster, I need to bike faster. There is more work to be done. But this is why I race. To learn my weaknesses and hope that as I go back to training to work on them that one day I’ll put together that ‘perfect’ race.

Truth be told, coming back into racing is hard. Starting back at a point that feels far from where you once were or where you want to go is not easy. But I never thought it would be. I imagine it’s what we feel as we age, too. How do you accept a version of yourself that is less than when you were at your best? How do you stay motivated? How do you say – this is me here, now and that’s ok. Progress never happens fast enough. It’s easy to get discouraged or lose focus. But it’s always been that pursuit of bettering myself that has brought me back to racing. Wherever that pursuit takes me this time, I just want to know that I gave it my best every step of the way.

And now, I recover. It’s safe to say I won’t be walking right for a week. There’s a piece of my right quad that I left out on the second run course and my hamstrings are angry. I might down an entire bottle of Recovery e21 today. But in a few days I will be healed and know it was worth it. I do duathlons so when I get to triathlon I think to myself – run off the bike without having to run before it?

Easy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Immeasurables

The other day, I was reading an article about success. In it, the author talked about the recent appearance of Aaron Rodgers on David Letterman. In case you don't know, Rodgers was named the MVP of this year’s Super Bowl. I didn't know this either until I read the aritcle. Admittingly, I’m not much of a football fan. I'll confess: I was watching Puppy Bowl while everyone else was knee deep in Doritos and first downs. But I am a fan of successful athletes and better understanding the process of their success.

Though his sport is football, Rodgers said something that applies to any sport:

The things you can’t measure give people the most success.

We, as triathletes, are a sport obsessed with measuring. Whether it’s critical power, heart rate, distance, cadence – if we can measure it, we will. No sooner will we dismount our bike than we’re uploading a file to see if we did what we really set out to do. We look for meaning in the numbers. We’ve created fancy charts to compare ourselves. We plug all of this information into programs with sophisticated calculations to tell us if we are stressed and should go easy the next day.

(this has never made sense to me. Think about it: a ‘score’ has to tell us we’re tired? Whatever happened to just listening to our body?)

Just the other day, Training Peaks upgraded to include even more measurables. Nothing against Training Peaks; it’s a highly functional tool for coaches and athletes. The amount of data you can record, however, is mind-boggling. You can track everything from your meals, your body measurements, sleep quality, life stress, fatigue. We have power meters to measure our power data. Garmins to collect our run pace. Heart rate monitors to peek into our hearts. As if all of that weren’t enough, I introduce to you SwimSense, now able to capture data from of every.single.lap. I looked at one of these downloads the other day and while the comprehensiveness of the data impressed me, at the same time I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do with all of it.

My fear with all of this data and technology, the measurables, is not just that we lose the ability to feel, but rather lose the ability to respond and adjust while training. That we cannot notice and interpret our own trends while training. We shouldn’t have to wait until after the workout to go back in and see – wow, I did a lousy job of pacing. Or, I warmed up in my zone 2 heart rate. These are things we should be receptive to noticing and then adjusting within the workout. If you wait until afterwards or always wait for a coach to tell you that you’ve done those things wrong, to me, it’s too late. Coach won’t be there during the race. Viewing the data after the race won’t really count. You’ve got to be able to think for yourself and act for yourself when it matters most.


What is our obsession with measuring? Does it validate our efforts? Did the ride really happen if we lose the power file? If the Garmin says we climbed 2000 feet in that run, we come back and it felt hard, does that give credence to our feelings? Do we use data to give us a sense of confidence? And when the data doesn't go our way, does it eat up our confidence? Or maybe we set goals, and perhaps we wait for the data to tell us we are ready to achieve that goal. Whatever happened to just going for it. Just doing the work and taking a leap of faith. Maybe sport involves too much science to be overruled by faith.

Or does it?

After working with all different athletes, what I’ve noticed about top performers is not that they are innately gifted. Nor do they need to have a high V02 max. Their power to weight ratio isn’t always above 4 watts/kg and they don’t need to swim a sub 1:15/100 yard pace. Having any one of those things does not guarantee anything. It’s how you put it all together that counts. I’ve seen athletes with all the right ‘numbers’ fall completely short of their goals. And others with decent numbers in training absolutely blow me away with their results. If success was simply a matter of needing to push 250 watts at 21 mph for 56 miles in order to win the event, then more people would be winning. If success was a formula, then those triathlon calculators would be all we need. Why even bother to race – take your training data, plug it into the calculator, fastest athlete wins.

But that’s not always the case. While the measurable give us an estimation of how we could perform, execution is really what matters. And it takes a lot more having the numbers proving you can ride fast in order to execute a perfect race. Or the winning race. Or just setting a PR. Whatever winning is to you.

We can measure speed, watts, heart rate, pace but you simply cannot measure the things that matter most when it comes to success. Beyond training, these are the things that allow you to execute that "perfect" race. Things like passion, confidence, faith, drive, grit, attitude, pain tolerance. You can’t measure how bad an athlete wants it. You can’t put a number of someone’s confidence. Grit doesn’t occur at a certain percentage of threshold. And passion? Well, if you don’t have it then the best numbers in the world will do nothing more than help you to fall flat in every race.

When I think of my best performers, athletes who consistently hit their goals, I see the things you can’t measure that matter the most when it comes to success; passion, confidence, perseverance, a can-do attitude, maturity, self-regulation, balance, drive. Above all – they are intelligent. Someone once told me the best athletes are thinking animals. They have that animal drive but in the heat of the competition they are still thinking to make best decisions, pace themselves and execute a plan.

None of this can be measured.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a place for tools, measurements, data. In training, it shows us trends. In racing, it keeps us from being a dumb ass. Anything feels good for the first 20 minutes. Sitting well above threshold during that time is not intelligent racing. But then again, you shouldn’t need a tool to tell you that. If the athlete learns in training and then listens in racing, they’ll know. The body has a way of telling you where you need to be.

We spend so much time on collecting and analyzing data, yet so little time on working on those immeasurables. When it comes down to it, the immeasurables will be the most valuable. Knowing you can hold xxx watts doesn’t matter if your game is thrown off by rain. Being confident that you can handle whatever is thrown your way will help you to adapt and overcome in that rain. Spend a month downloading your power data, and you might improve a few watts. Spend a month writing down one thing you did well every day, and you will gain confidence to deal with the unexpected. Better yet, to deal with yourself.

Which is more valuable?

Training the immeasurables is something we don’t often do. It’s too touchy feeling. I can hear it now - performance has to be more linear and predictable, Elizabeth. There have to be magical bike workouts to make us strong, a set number of weekly training hours required to win a race, a set of 100s that will tell us if we are ready. After working with hundreds of athletes - let me tell you – performance is not predictable. Success is not x + y = z. Just because someone can nail that tough bike workout doesn't mean they are going to bring it on race day. Success has nothing to do with your pace and everything to do with your mindset. Of course you need to train, train smart and consistently based on realistic goals. Beyond that – the immeasurables take over. You need the drive, you need the confidence. To pull it all together on race day you need to know you’ve trained the immeasurables.

But where’s that download? Can someone show me the file from their brain during the last threshold bike workout? When it got hard, where did your head go? When you suffered a setback, what did you do? When you fell short of your goal, what happened to your confidence and drive? What did you hear from the voice in your head? This is what matters. This is where you make that connection between the work you do and achieving your goals. Do you consistently give up, do you lack faith in your training plan, do you make excuses, do you get flustered by the unexpected, do you negative talk, do you turn every little ache into a career-ending injury.


How do you manage yourself and your head?

I’m not against the measurable. I coach with data and use it myself. Data identifies weaknesses and tracks progress. Nothing is more revealing than data. You either put out the watts – or not. You either warmed up properly or blew yourself in the first 10 minutes. Data never lies. But success is multi-dimensional. To be a successful athlete you need good data but even better body awareness. You won’t get far on numbers alone.

You see, there is something that data and numbers will never do – it will never feel, think or respond. It might give you the confidence that you are ready to hold a pace but whether you do or not – that’s all in your head. It’s being able to display confidence under pressure, tuning out distractions, working up to your potential no matter what happens out there. These are all things you must do in a race. No race is ever run perfectly; there are other competitors, obstacles, weather conditions. You must be able to feel your way out of those situations and think through them. When it’s 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity, relying on your Garmin to pace that half marathon is not going to lead to a desirable outcome. You have to have the athletic maturity, confidence and intelligence to figure out what to do – and then...do it.

For the next week, I challenge you to work on what you can’t measure. Do one thing every day to build your confidence. Reconnect to your passion for the sport. Improve your attitude. Become more adaptable. Find balance. Get gritty. Find all of this within and then use it. Become more responsible for your success in sport. Don’t wait for the workouts to make you better. Don’t wait for the numbers to tell you that you're ready. Start now. Make yourself better, one thought, one action at a time. Disconnect from thinking that success is one magic number, diet, pace or set away. Reconnect to what is inside of you that matters more. You can’t measure it but you do need it to find that success.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Voices

The other day, one of my athletes wrote in his log about the voices in his head. He was in the middle of a big training block. Cumulative fatigue was building in the legs. And though he was just doing a long run with some rolling hills – no intervals, no target paces – he heard the voices. The voices that were saying maybe he should be running faster, is the pace too slow, is he on track, is he where he was compared to last year.

We’ve all heard the voices. At our weakest moments, we’ve listened. We’ve let doubt creep into our mind for whatever reason – insecurity, boredom, not knowing any better. We’re told not to look at the pace during an easy run yet we look and we compare. We wonder what so and so is doing in their training. We think what if so and so was our coach would we be faster. We wonder if we’re ahead. Or behind.

We waste a lot of mental energy.

I’ve heard the voices too. Coming back after pregnancy, let me tell you sometimes the voices chatter loudly. Are you running enough. Are you fast enough. Should 90 percent of threshold watts really feel this difficult. If you don’t go into a workout with your mind firmly set in confidence, you find yourself questioning. You lose focus. You give it a little less because your mind is so cluttered. I find when I go into a workout with my mind made up (I feel tired today, this workout looks too hard), the voices talk the loudest. They find my weakness. They talk hard to get me to listen.


On Saturday, I was two days away from finishing up three weeks of big work. The voices started to chatter; you're tired, you're not going to be fast enough. Did I listen? I managed the voices by keeping it in perspective. By the end of a 3-week build you shouldn’t be feeling too zippy. Good excuse to give up (I’m so sore!). To not even try (my legs are too tired to hit those watts!). We are at our most vulnerable when tired. The voices say to me – if you can’t run xx pace right now how are you going to hold that pace for xx miles in x weeks?

All I know is the work I’m doing. Slow or fast, I trust my body knows what to do with the work. It’s hard and I’m giving it my best. When I make up my mind about that, the voices turn off. They’re always there – but the best athletes learn how to manage them.

I’m convinced the voices work a little harder with those of us coming back to sport after a long layoff. That little voice in the back of the head: will I really be ready? Am I crazy for what I want to accomplish this year? Yet when I think about my upcoming races, there is more excitement than fear. I will be ready. When I look back, I realize my failures happened because I was not ready – I was unhealthy, I was driven by fear. I am different now. I am unafraid. Maybe because I have failed incredibly and realized that even in last place, even DNFing, you still wake up the next day and life moves forward. You are still smart, strong and loved. Results in sport do not define us. It is what we do within sport – our attitude, our energy that is defining.

What I’ve learned is that beyond the basic training, event readiness is a state of mind. You can control what the voices say. We set ourselves up for arriving at a race ready or not. We have it in our head that on this day of this month, we will stand at the start line prepared – and thinking it’s on. If you let your head fill with the voices of doubt between now and then, you’ll arrive at that same line thinking – am I really ready for this? When you doubt, you don’t race at your best – you race scared. Racing scared leads to distractions and mistakes; you overpace, you forget your fuel plan, you think too much.

I’ve got some big races this year. Will I be ready? I’m not sure what ready is. Is it running an x:xx mile? Is it being xxx pounds? I don’t know and honestly – I don’t care. When I try to rationally search for clues that mean I am ready it wears me out. I find myself thinking, well, for that race a few years ago I know I did this, this and that. Thoughts like that make my head feel confused and cluttered. It’s chatter that makes me want to cover my ears begging for silence. It makes me lose focus on what I am doing because I’m always comparing it to what I did.


All I know is that when I arrive at the start line of my peak races, no matter who is standing next to me, I will have nothing certain behind me except the miles, hours, and training sessions. Months of waiting and watching while pregnant where I wasn’t working on my fitness per se but was working on my desire. If the voices choose to show up on race day – that’s all I’ll have to throw back at them.

And I think that’s enough.

What I’m realizing in my training is that it all goes back to confidence. It’s something I learned many years ago. I was in a half Ironman – it was hot and hilly. I had about 3 miles to go. I was up against some fast girls that I kept seeing at every.damn.turnaround. What lied between me and the win was not excellent genetics, superior training or fancy equipment. The secret is: I don’t do flying dismounts, I don’t train 20 hours a week, I rarely run over 30 miles in a week and I only flip turn with a pull buoy. How I ever accomplished anything is beyond me, right? What lied between me and the win was confidence. I wanted to own those last 3 miles. The voices in my head didn’t stand a chance. Fatigue, pain – not listening. Confidence, I’ve said it before – it’s a firewall.

We’d all like to think there are special workouts that make us winners, a set body weight or perfect number of training hours but that’s not the case. What amazes me about human performance is that different body types, ages and training approaches can all achieve success. It’s not so much what they’re doing but how they’re doing it. They’re confident, they trust and they don’t listen to the voices in their head. Sure sometimes those voices chatter but they manage it. They don’t perseverate. It is what it is. They move on to the next day and do the work again. Consistency builds confidence. What you do tomorrow backed up by what you did today. All of the work – good/bad, fast/slow – adds up to preparation. Preparation meets confidence and then you have…opportunity. What you do with that opportunity is up to you.

Will you breakthrough or listen to the voices in your head.

Yesterday during my long ride, I listened to an interview with Kara Goucher. At 4 months post partum, she’s just begun her return to competition. The interviewer asked how mentally hard it is to be in the race with the top women in the world. She talked about the voices. She admitted sometimes to standing on the start lines, looking around knowing these women are fast and wondering if she’s ready. Even if you are prepared, there are always moments you are unsure of yourself. Her strategy: in those moments, you snap yourself back and say I am prepared. I am ready for this. It’s a belief system you have to subscribe to all along. You have to trust that the work you are doing will get you there. And once there, you will not only know what to do but you will do it.

We need as many defenses as we can get to quiet the voices. Something Kara talked about was making note of breakthrough workouts. Writing down the time you nailed the intervals, toughed through a cold day, finished strong. Before your race, you revisit those breakthroughs for confidence. So when you’re out on the race course and you encounter an obstacle or challenge, you know you can do it because you’ve done it before. Kara and I have something in common (no, I don't run 100 miles a week!), I write down my breakthroughs too. It takes no more than 5 minutes on a Sunday night. I go back and revisit all of my workouts and make a note. When I think about how I want to feel in a race, I want to feel like I did in those workouts. It’s much easier when I know which ones to go back to and try to reconnect to those feelings.

Sunday was the last day before I get some rest. On my schedule was a 3-hour workout entitled Hard – Repeat. Ow? I have no idea what that really means because I never look at the details of my workout until I am ready to start. One day at a time, one workout at a time. Yet the voices started early that morning – I’m tired. Yeah, I know. You’ve been going for a few weeks, you should be tired! But if I listen closely enough, I realize the louder voice is saying if we do this, it will be a big thing. One of those big things that I’ll write down on Sunday nght and revisit before race day.

Pedaling through a 30 minute warm up, I could feel that mentally this workout would be much more difficult than physically. But if I put my mind to it – I would nail this workout and a few months from now draw confidence with it. Over 3 hours later, I stepped off the treadmill and smiled. I did it. Sure, I was tired and it hurt, but I got it done.

The voices are quiet now. With each workout, they dampen just a little bit more until they become muffled white noise. I won’t hear them on race day. All I will hear is – you can do this, you’re ready, you’ve done this in training. Because that’s the way I’ve been practicing. Practice as you plan to race. Be the athlete you want to be in racing when in training. Learn to manage the voices, and feed them what you want them to say. You control you – in training, on race day. Actively create what you want to hear in your mind.