Team

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I was thinking more about that last update, and the psychology of working with a coach in the early stages, before you have experienced success in the program. That’s when training partners are more important than ever. 

Physical training of this intensity is hard (understatement!). You are exhausted a lot of the time, and while at altitude camp, you’re mostly isolated from friends, family, partners. And on top of all that, there are no guarantees it will pay off. Improvements at this level don’t come easy. You have to endure months of work without much positive feedback, from a coach or the outside world. It’s a recipe for some depressing moments.

Having teammates in this situation is what makes the setup at all bearable.

When I first joined, I was warned a lot about the trials of the first year with Bowerman. Courtney, Colleen, Shelby, Emily, Amy, everyone had a story about how hard it was at different points, how they weren’t able to finish workouts, and that in itself was a new challenge. So I was at least prepared. But commiserating can be a slippery slope. You want keep the bar at the level of the best of you, not let it fall to the lowest common denominator. I think we do a good job of this. On the workout days, no one is given much sympathy. It’s not that anyone is mean, it’s just that the focus is on the people completing the full session. Which is exactly as it should be. People still working to get to that point (me!) can gain strength knowing that teammates who are crushing it now went through the same growing pains. You aren’t given the chance to wallow or slow down in the pursuit.

And this all makes it sounds so serious, when there is so much fun. We giggle and bond over shared struggles and goals, use humor to deal with hard days. We explore new places together, cook together, share stories. We get on each other’s nerves, but even that turns eventually to jokes. The experience of a training camp is itself unique, and you grow close from sharing it, living with each other’s messes and faults.

A few of us struggled on the tempo mile day. There is power in simply knowing that someone else is going through a similar ordeal. We didn’t talk about it too much, we all went home and kept each other on the same routine: did a second run, shared dinner duties, got up the next day and repeated. Simple. But at a point when I am desperately wanting more approval, from Jerry, from the outside world, from myself and my expectations, I am so thankful for this camaraderie. I want that stuff, my ego wants the validation, but I don’t need it when I have them. And maybe you could say I don’t need training partners, but on this day, it sure as hell makes it easier to keep my head up and keep on the train.

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Jerry came for the workout

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While we are at altitude camps, a coach comes about once a week to oversee a session, either Jerry or Pascal. The specifics are the same if Jerry is at the track or texting the instructions. But I get more nervous when he’s there. I want to give a good performance. This is complicated by the fact that he usually travels for the hardest workouts. And Tuesday was a doozy.

The original plan was 2 x 2 mile tempo, followed by some 300s. I struggled in the tempo, and he ended up altering the second one (gave me a break at the mile to gather myself). That meant I was able to finish with some dignity. But it definitely wasn’t a knock it out of the park situation.

I want a knock it out of the park situation.

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A special flow happens when workouts start clicking, a shared secret begins to grow between athlete and coach. You both know that a flame has been lit. To the outside world, everything is as it was. But to the inner circle, new potentials are unfolding. They are still just dreams, but there’s a growing evidence that the dream isn’t unrealistic. The risks, and hard work, and educated guesses, they are starting to show results. Nothing big, but enough to make you want to dream more, and bigger.  Anyone who’s worked on a successful project or collaboration in its early stages would know that sensation. The ultimate flow state is one that’s shared.

I love that feeling. I’ve known it with coaches. I see it happening with some training partners now. But the thing is, it’s not a given for me, and definitely not this year. I’m currently telling myself that in order to achieve great things, I have to put in great work. And if my breakthroughs and flow states come too easy, it just means the peak won’t be as high. I’m telling myself that it’s okay to be solid, just solid, and not magical, not yet.

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Jerry gives me get a head nod and reassurance that I’ve come a long way from November. I have. Though I can’t quite shake the feeling that I wish I was the one he keeps talking to after the workout, making plans for summer races. All I can do is acknowledge it and walk to the car. I have to take my dignified fails for now.

When you reset your watch, every day is a PB

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The altitude catchphrase: everything hurts and I’m dying. I kind of love that feeling… you know something good must be happening. But still, it can be easy to lose track of progress. If everything feels a bit crappy, and all the paces are different, how do I know if I’m getting in good work? ⠀ ⠀
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I’ve found logs to be immensely helpful as an anchor in these situations. I’ve kept a training log in one form or another for six years now. I don’t look back at them too often, but I like to use them to establish a baseline in hard training blocks. ⠀ ⠀
I started doing this on trips to Flagstaff. If I was struggling the first week, I might look back and see I was running faster than previous trips, or more mileage. It calms me to have a reason to know why I’m more tired. ⠀ ⠀
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Of course, there can be a negative side to holding too tightly to past experience. If you have a certain key workout you need to hit, it can seem like failure if you don’t repeat it exactly (one reason why I hate the idea of indicator workouts before races). Example: I finished my long run today and was bummed because I averaged slower than last week.
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I guess like anything, logs have to be an exercise in optimism: go find one thing that you’re doing now that you weren’t a year ago, one point of progress. If I practice this attitude, I can most times find something that has improved – be it mileage, pace, workout load – and that helps me feel like the bar has been raised and I’m building momentum. When each day is a bit of a slog, that’s exactly what I need to believe.

Altitude camp is underway

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I took two days off to cross train before we left, because heel stuff was getting acute. I’m trying to follow advice I would give myself… catch things early.
Am I being too conservative? Maybe. I tell myself it’s a good mental break regardless, end the sea level stint and prepare (and pack!) for the next training block. ⠀ ⠀
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The opportunities to question your training and lifestyle decisions are never more available than at an altitude camp. You share a house with teammates for 4-8 weeks, spend most of the day training together, eat most meals together. You’re bombarded with examples of how other people do it. How hard they run, do they double, or cross train. What they eat after workouts, what they eat in general. Do they nap or sleep in, read or watch tv, keep busy with lots of projects or protect their down time.⠀
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It’s important to remember that everyone is unique, and what works for one person might not be the answer for someone else. You don’t want to get sucked into the comparison game (see previous posts!!).
But charging ahead with no regard for the knowledge of others is not the way to go, either. Sometimes I can get too bullheaded in that sense. And if I don’t watch it, I miss a learning opportunity.⠀ ⠀
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I don’t know where the line is, between protecting what works for me, and keeping an open mind to the habits and methods of others. Maybe the whole point of this post is that I don’t know a lot of things. Or, a lot of things are unknowable, regardless of how much we would like there to be a scientific and singular right answer. There are so many paths to reach the pinnacle, it can’t be summed up in a one size fits all solution.
So… how does one thrive in an altitude camp, or any working environment, maintaining their principles and also growing where possible? Eep eeppp. That is the question. I’m going to coin my mindset confidently curious. And also carry some version of the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And *wisdom to know the difference.* 👊🏼