Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why Wait?

It’s New Years Eve, I was sitting on my bike with my veins running coffee, a million thoughts running through my head, when it struck me what an odd place the eve of new years really is.  It’s like sitting on the edge of a cliff and below is a great unknown.  We know we’re going over, we’re just not sure where we’ll land.  

Perusing Facebook, most people were talking good riddance to 2011 and eagerly anticipating the good that would hopefully come in 2012.  The new year is like opening a gift - the possibility of what could be makes us want to tear right in.  With the risk of knowing it could be something we want to return.  But we'll take the chance.  It could be something great!   Worth the wait of an entire year.  

And then it occurred to me…why wait?

There’s something about the prospect of starting over – of wiping the slate clean, starting fresh, pretending like the past never happened to clutter our view of what’s possible in the future.  I, myself, have written dozens of these start over lists, dozens of goals with the start date of Monday, next week, next month, next year.  Sometimes we spend so much time waiting to start becoming the better version of ourselves and in that time, we keep on being the uglier version the self.  We binge, we go overboard, waiting for that designated date to start over and feel good about ourselves again.  

Think about how you feel after you write those start over lists.  Empowered, pleased and in control.  Lists make us hopeful.  List take what seems intangible and puts it within our reach.  Organizes us on how to take action.  And action leads to change, results, improvements. If I do x, y and z; if I commit to this – what could I be?  If I do all of my training sessions, eat well, get to bed early – could I set that new PR?  Win my age group?  Achieve that next big thing?  For that, I sit down at the end of the year and make a list.  Of where I want to be next December.  Of my checkpoints along the way.   

(but sometimes these lists just scream: I’m flawed.  FIX ME!  The list gets bigger.  More things to work on.  The pressure!  Sigh.  Accepting who you are – here, now, for better, for worse – should be a part of our new years resolution.  #1 on the list.  Here I am, with imperfections, things I could do better – all of these idiosyncracies making up the fabric of me.  There is nothing wrong with me.  If I was perfect, what would be the point of living?  I would have mastered everything and had no more need to learn.  Failing, learning, dreaming – these are all things in life that make it worth living) 

Why do we wait until December to write our start over lists?  Why not every Sunday before the next week?  Better yet, every morning?  This process of looking for more in ourselves, our goals and then setting forth and action plan on how to get there – why not spend more time on that?  I know: we’re busy, we’re distracted, we’re waiting for the next start over date to be a kick in the ass.

But why wait? 

If you took action now – if you let go of that bad habit now, if you started over now, if you dreamed big RIGHT NOW – where would you be?  Next week?  Next December?  Does your “list” contain things that you were supposedly working on last year?  What happened?  Why do you keep waiting?

I think in life, far too often we “wait” to press the reset button.  We get trapped in our bad habits, losing sight of the fact that every day we make choices. We get caught up in the busyness and messiness of life.  Distracted.  We put off the big things (change) to complete the little things (grocery shopping – again?).  You choose to be who you are and do what you do.  Food doesn’t control you.  Other people don’t control you.  Life doesn’t control you.  You create it.  Things happen to us but you always choose your reaction.   

15 miles have gone by.  I’ve pedaled 15 miles and gone nowhere.  Sadly, sometimes an analogy for life, isn’t it?  But in that time, I’ve thought a lot about the new year.  How we need to take all of that hope and enthusiasm for our own possibility in the new year and spread it more evenly throughout the year.  Heck, every day.  Start each morning with #1 on the list: I’m not perfect, but I’m ok.  I’m a work in progress.  And the rest of the things on this list, I will work on them to make that progress.  And if I do a little bit of work every day, next December I’ll be in a better place – I’ll know more, I’ll have lived more, I’ll have taken action more.  That will make me a better version of myself.

Sometimes all we need to start over in life is remind ourselves that every day we have the control, power and ability to take action.  Here, now it begins.  It starts now.  And if not now – then when?  And why?  Whatever you want to change or do, it can happen.  No need to wait until tomorrow or the next year.  Start now, take a little bit of action every day and over time – how can you not get there?  How can you NOT consider your effort, your self, your year a success?

It’s December 31, 2011.  You’re sitting on the edge of the cliff.  And the good news – you know where you can land.  Things will happen along the way, some good, some bad but you’re always in control.  You make choices. You take action.  You set goals.  You write lists.  The new year doesn’t have to be a mystery, a place where we “wait” for good things to come to us.  Go out and make them happen.  A little bit every day.  You’ll get there. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Debate

There’s a debate in triathlon that will probably rage forever.

It’s the one question we all want the answer to.  We know the answer is out there – or at least, we think we know.  Once we know the answer, it will all make sense, we’ll all be fast and we’ll all start winning. 

Right?

It’s the intensity debate.  Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this: training approach.  Which is best?  High intensity/low volume, low intensity/high volume?

The answer is not a clear one.  In other words, it depends.  It depends on who you ask.  It depends on who you are.  It depends on your goals.  I don’t think there will ever be research, data or experience to support that one works better than the other because there are so many other factors that go into success. 

So which is the best?  It’s the one that works best for you.  How do you know which approach will work best for you?  Consider your age, your experience, your background, your goals and your ability to recover.  Most importantly, look back at your history.  Look at that approaches you’ve followed.  To determine which was the most successful, consider a few things:

1 – Performance.  It’s stating the obvious but under which approach did you perform at your best?   Be careful to avoid race placement as a criteria – look at raw performance – numbers, data – and compare what counts. 

2 – Repeatability of performance.  Was half your season a bang and the other a flop?  Were there more hits than misses?  What you’re looking for is repeatability, the ability to turn out consistently strong performances.   

3 – Health.  The most important factor upon which nothing else exists unless you have it.   Were you healthy?  No colds, sinus infections, no injuries, no missed days/weeks because of illness/injury/aches/mental burnout.  Look at the whole picture of health – physical, psychological. 

This brings us back to the debate: which then is better?  The high intensity/low volume program of the low intensity/high volume program?

The program that works best is the one that allows you to do the most work consistently over time.  One thing we cannot deny in sport:  work = work.  More is more.  Therefore: more work is better.  Yet the problem is that most athletes apply this concept incorrectly.  More does not mean going out and hammering 3 workouts a day while living on bagels and 5 hours of sleep.  If you’re doing more work, you’ve got to give that much more attention to the peripherals that allow you to integrate that work: sleep, nutrition, etc.  In other words: RECOVERY.  For every 1 more hour of work you do, you’ve got to give your body 1 more hour of recovery.      

Yet most of us cannot do that.  We have jobs, kids, spouses, commutes and other obligations.  We can’t take a nap after a workout because we’ve got to get right back to whatever it is we do when we’re not training.  Which is typically what pays the bills.  And so enter the high intensity/low volume approach.  More bang for your buck.  Less is more.  Sounds like the answer, right?  I don’t disagree with this approach but I do feel you need to be careful with it.  I often call this the “give ‘em what they want” approach.  We all want to hear that we can do more on less.  Why? 

1 – Our brain.  The brain is always trying to find shortcuts to complete future work faster and with less effort.  We are looking for the most efficient, least energy costly way to accomplish something.  If less is more, we want to know – our brain wants to know.  Not only that but it’s the attractiveness of getting what we want on as little as possible.  Our society is obsessed with this notion.  Ever seen Six Minute Abs?  

2 – The ego need.  There is something quite ego-satsifying about going hard.  A hard workout makes us feel like we did something and that feeling gives us confidence that we are prepared and ready for something “hard” like a race.   It’s fun to win the workout or go to the group workout to smash it.  But be careful of the ego need – falling into this trap can often lead to leaving our best races in training.  Carefully use your mental and physical energy at the right place and right time – in key workouts and races – not in day to day sessions.

3 – Cultural Work Ethic.  There is a value attached to hard work that is deeply ingrained in the history of our society.  In most areas of life, the harder we work, the farther we go.  We put in extra hours at work, we get a bigger bonus.  We study harder, we get better grades.  As such, we believe the harder we work at sports, the faster we will be.  Though in sport working too hard can lead to the opposite result which you are seeking.    

So is less more?  Is more less?

Work is work.  You can’t deny it.  Whether you do a lot of it or a little of it you’ve got to do it to get faster.  So, my answer to less or more:  do work.  Do it consistently.  Recover well from it, wake up tomorrow and do it again.  Repeat that process over and over again.   Whether during that process you do fast work, long work, slow work, short work – whatever allows you to wake up day after day motivated and healthy enough to get the work done is what works for you.  After all, what we are seeking in this sport is repeatability – repeatability of pace, repeatability of strong performance, repeatability of the ability to train day after day.   

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Aren’t there magical workouts?  A certain number of hours to train each week?  Often times the best approach is the most simple.  Simple is easy on our body and mind.  Sometimes we create more stress worrying about our training approach than the training approach itself creates on our body.  We all know these athletes; classic overthinkers.  They get so lost in overthinking the details of the plan that they lose sight of common sense.  You get faster by doing work, recovering and then adding more stress.  You don’t get faster by adding more stress, underrecovering and then adding more stress.  What you get there is injured, sick or plateaued. 

See how that goes? It’s not in the details, it’s in the big picture.  Whatever allows you to do the most quality work over time is the best approach.  It’s really rather simple.  I’ve often said this about coaching: it’s not rocket science.  No matter what a coach tells you, they do not have their PhD in triathlon.  They don’t need it.  It’s the art of applying science.  The science is rather simple.  It’s more about taking that science and fitting it into someone’s life, their mindset and their ability to recover. 

And here's another secret: want the biggest bang for your fitness buck that has nothing to do with less or more training?  Seek out ways to improve your recover-ability.  Eat the right things at the right time.  Sleep.  Fuel/hydrate well before, during and after workouts.  Train your brain.  Stretch.  Do your strength training.  Learn to compartmentalize – when you’re doing the sport, focus on it.  When you’re not, focus on something else!  Pay attention to your body – then, listen to it.  A little more recovery goes a long way

So which approach is right for you?  Some athletes need more intensity, some need more volume, some need those long rides/runs/etc every week.  Some need shorter workouts with more frequency.  Some athletes can handle multiple intense sessions a week.  Some can only go easy. Whatever approach is applied to them, it has to be one that allows them to work consistently.  Which works for you?  Look back at your history and honestly assess what works for you.  And know that often what we want to do and what we need to do – are two different things.  What we want to do is often driven by our insecurities, our fear, our obsessive tendencies.  What we need to do is driven by our goals, our body, our experience, our recover-ability.  It might be wise to ask for help in figuring out what’s right for you.

More or less?  There are still some athletes who will not let this question go.  Even when an athlete has bought into a particular approach, it’s not uncommon for them to still have questions, to wonder if there is a better way.  Is it insecurity?  Hard to say.  More likely that it’s our inability to ever be satisfied.  It’s the paradox of choice.  We have so many choices that we are rarely content with the one we’ve chosen.  What if there’s something out there that’s better? 

Bottom line: consistency is all that counts.  Whatever you choose to do, do it consistently.  Make sure it works for you and your life.  Then - give it time to work.  Along the way, enjoy yourself, maintain good health and reap the benefits of improved performance.  Can you check of each of those three things off with your current training plan?  If so, you’ve found your answer.  You’ve chosen the right plan.   

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Club

You’ve officially joined the club of parenting when you find your backseat covered in Cheerios.

I swore to myself it would never be happen.  A few years ago, I remember looking in the backseat of a friend’s car – a very nice, upscale car – and noticing the backseat was a sea of baby toys, blankets, crumbs and Cheerios.  Disgusting, I thought, why don’t they clean that shit up.  Why?  Because every time they clean it up, someone sits back there snug in their carseat throwing Cheerios to pass the time. 

What you don’t know is that this club of parenting is only for the cool kids.  I know, you think you’re cool because you have a social life, you washed your hair this morning, you can go to a public restroom without shouting GET AWAY FROM THAT TOILET SEAT.  

No.

Cool is driving around in a minivan and feeling a strange sense of connection when your friend posts a picture of their new minivan on Facebook.  You’re gonna love it!  Cool is standing outside in the dark, 38 degrees, at a parade (let it be told that I HATE PARADES),screaming when Curious George walks by, picking up candy canes off the ground, freezing your ass off all because you are waiting to see Santa at the end of the parade.  He’s not even real!  And even though one day I know my children will tell me – repeatedly – how uncool I am, I’ll know otherwise.  Because you cannot survive this parenting thing without the belief that: I am absolutely bursting with cool.  

The other day we were at the library.  The kids section has a wonderful play area filled with letter magnets, toys and puppets.  We go there because (a) it’s free, (b) there are other children Max can interact with, and (c) I don’t have to clean up after him.  Another couple was there with a child around Max’s age.  The dad was lying on the ground behind a wooden puppet theater putting on a puppet show while the child watched, mesmerized.  I walked by this scene, while toting my own child away from his latest obsession – the drinking fountain – and thought to myself: we used to be cool.

Remember that?  We used to go out. We used to have a social life.  We used to have adult conversations.  We used to have days that weren’t centered around trying to keep the child as busy as possible so they will take their afternoon nap.  Now, we lay on the library floor putting on puppet shows talking in funny animal voices.

Friday night, Chris and I made a date to go to The Great Indoors.  I waited for this all week.  If this is marriage at year 6, can you imagine year 20?  Let’s go to the Chik-Fil-A for a nice sit-down dinner.  I shudder.  Anyhow, we were looking for things for our new house.  An organizational system for our laundry room.  It gets better.  After this, I wanted to go to the Home Depot.  Friday night. 

Enough said.

I walk in and immediately tell Chris that I HAVE to have the inflatable Santa sitting in a helicopter with an actual rotating blade.  I just feel compelled.  We don’t have any Christmas yard art and I HAVE to beat our neighbor who has his front yard decorated with bizarre Christmas shit.  My favorite was the year he tried to dye the snow red.  Turns out red snow quickly fades.  And that’s how you have a front yard full of pink snow.  When Chris reads the 90 dollar price tag, he says I can’t have it. I almost tantrummed but then figured there was a 99 percent chance that another Waterstraat would tantrum in the store within the next 30 minutes so why steal his thunder.

We looked at some paint.  Ceiling tiles.  Cabinets.  Then Chris told me we had to find a new toilet seat.  Because mine was worn out.  Think about that what you wish.  Next we looked at lighting.  And then Chris said he wanted to find a toolbelt.

And zip your trap about any Schneider comments.

So Schneider and I headed over to the aisle with the toolbelts.  Have you been?  It’s more than you think.  At least two dozen options. 

It’s Friday night, we’re at the Home Depot looking at toolbelts. 

And it was more than just us.  Quite a few couples with small children pushing around the mobile child prison cell – the cart, do not under any circumstances take the child out of the cart – looking at … tools.  Screws.  Hardware.

How and when did this happen?

Chris tries on a few toolbelts.  Yes, tries on a few, and then settles on the cheapest one.  Goes to put it in the cart with Max who throws it right back out.  As if to say: you guys used to be cool.  Fuck this Scheider tool belt fashion show (and how awesome would it be if he actually said that?).  By the way, we have just reached the point as parents when we realize that we need to install a filter – ON OUR MOUTHS!  As my brother once told me, there is nothing funny about a 2 year old saying “crap” when they drop their cookie!

Chris looks around for a few other things while I take the opportunity to update my Facebook.  One can never have enough displays of shameless narcissism and what better place to display it than on Facebook.  I tell the world I’m at Home Depot.  But what I failed to mention is that I also looked fabulous! 

Obviously.

The responses come in.  I find out – I’m not alone.  Thank god for Facebook, it makes me feel…..loved in this lonely world.  What I learn is that other married couples also go to Home Depot on a Friday night.  Makes me think that if you’re married and you haven’t been to a Home Depot – you might just have a marital problem.  Maybe this is love or just real life.  It’s functional, it is not sexy and at times it involves hardware.

A friend with a newborn asks if there are crying children at the Home Depot because if not – it sounds like a glorious place.  Crying children?  None, unless you count mine.  Who attempted to climb a bamboo flooring display and fell off.  I would have saved him but was too busy looking at backyard design books.  Another reason to nominate me – Parent of the Year, folks. 

Right on cue, laying somewhere near the bamboo flooring display, Max has a meltdown. Full-blown tears, wailing.  And let me tell you – the Home Depot echoes.  There’s nothing quite like having an exploding child in a store.  It completes the awesome circle of parenting experience.  Right up there next to blowouts when you forgot the diaper bag.  There’s something that should be absolutely embarrassing about this moment, forcing you to abandon a cart full of items to exit the store immediately to save the rest of the world from your child.  Because before you had kids, that’s what you wished those parents would do.  But then you realize you are officially in the club when you pick up the child and go wait in line for the register.  Why?  Because you’re in the club.  And on your card it says: if you don’t like my crying child, I don’t give a shit!

(oops, I mean crap.  Oops….WHERE IS MY FILTER!?)

Why?  Because at some point in life, no matter which path you have chosen – to have dogs, cats, plants, friends – whatever – at some point YOU were that crying child.  You embarrassed your parents.  You had a meltdown.  You were the loudest, most obnoxious thing around.  You were THAT child.  And what I’ve learned in parenting is that there is a good chance that in any given outing your child will become THAT child. 

I’ve had to remind myself of this a lot.  I spend every day with Max.  We go out into the world.  We go to the post office and if I want to do anything like – say, take out a credit card, sign for something – I have to put him down.  And in doing so, I assure myself that he will remove a half dozen cards from the card display, run around the post office until the polite lady at the counter says: he has a card.

I had no idea.

It would be much easier to stay at home.  It would be a lot less embarrassing. I would spend a lot less time picking up random shit off of store floors (my child once disassembled an entire display of Via and all the barista could say was: go ahead and keep what he’s holding).

But as you can see – membership into the club often has benefits. 

Who couldn’t use some free Via? 

(which incidentally goes great with Cheerios)


(PS: as you can see, I'm going to try to redesign the blog!)