Workout matchmaking

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This Tuesday my strength session overlaps with Gwen. This is our first workout with just the two of us. She is a champion triathlete, currently training for the marathon. That doesn’t lend itself to much overlap with a mid-distance runner. But we are both planning to compete on the track at the USA Championships in a few weeks. I’m entered in the 1500, she’s in the 10k.

The workout is sets of tempo 800s with short rest. I’m going to do 9 reps, and she’ll continue with 3 more. It seems like it should be pretty manageable. We are getting closer to USAs. It’s not yet a taper, but Jerry does seem to have pulled back from the impossible sessions. This helps with recovery from accumulated fatigue, and it’s nice for confidence.

It’s a treat to workout with someone new. Usually we are segregated by distance. On event specific days, I’ll run with the other 1500 specialists. A new pairing is a bonding moment. You laugh and banter to get out the pre-workout jitters, and learn to rely on each other as you switch leads. And at the end, you share the accomplishment.

Still, I’m a bit nervous. It’s Gwen!! I really respect her, her athlete accomplishments (Olympic gold medalist in triathlon, for one) and the career she’s built, and I want to be a good workout partner. In this situation, we are given the pace, and we take turns leading one rep at a time. Being a “good” partner means that I hit the prescribed pace on the reps I lead, and do so evenly (if the goal is 2:34 for two laps, an ideal leader would run 77 and 77). It also means pulling my weight throughout the workout. I don’t want to blow up and leave a workout buddy hanging at the end, right when it gets hard. It feels like more responsibility with just two people, but it’s not as if any of this is new to me. If anything, I’m more experienced on the track than Gwen is. Still, the thought crosses my mind, “don’t mess up.”

Tempos are a unique kind of pain. They hurt, but not enough that you have to stop immediately. And it’s a slow build, so you start feeling the pain long before the end is near, long enough that your brain can get in the way. Today, I find myself forecasting. It’s maybe the 4th or 5th rep, only halfway through, and I start to worry about how much is left. I’m suddenly very aware of everyone at the track, especially those taking pictures. I let it start to agitate me. Stop with the camera, turn away! What if I can’t finish?!

I don’t usually get thoughts like that in the middle of a rep. The goal is to stay too present for the negative predictions. But tempos are just easy enough that my mind can wander. And I’m probably predisposed to a bit more performance anxiety right now. I ignore the mental interruption, or don’t add emotional importance, and focus on each piece individually. By the last set, I’m thinking I could have done one more.

Mentors

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You are your own business, your race results are the product, who do you pick for your board of advisors? (Okay, maybe most small business don’t have boards, but this is my imaginary scenario, and anything is possible).

Call them mentors, #1 fans co-conspirators, there are going to be people in addition to a coach who play a role in your athletic career.  You can call them family and friends, though I’ve found that I prefer to consciously choose who I let in on the details of my training and development. My parents love me, but I’m not texting them after a bad workout. That’s why I like the board of advisors thought exercise. It helps define who plays which roles for me, especially when roles can overlap. As I navigate bonding with a new coach, a rocky first few months, and a new training program, I am especially aware of these supportive figures in my life, and so thankful for them.

Aren’t mentors irrelevant if you have a good coach? Maybe for some, but I’ve found they hold different functions. I want a coach to keep me accountable, to raise the bar high and keep me reaching for it. I’ve found that I push myself hardest in practice when I have more of a “tough love” relationship with a coach. If I never break the seal and ask for mercy, that in itself strengthens my resolve… it’s a nonnegotiable. I want a coach to be honest and realistic, because only in that way can the relationship maintain its integrity. We both want big things, and we won’t pretend to have reached the goal until we are there. Trust grows in this way, and we can have direct conversations about what’s going well, and what’s not. I believe that a working relationship based on high standards, trust and psychological safety will produce the best results. And when those results come, they come with the satisfaction of mutual achievement.

But the growth phase is hard. The coach isn’t going to baby me, but man, I want someone to! Whereas I’m going to always try to bring my best self to interactions with a coach, I sometimes need to be able to admit when I’m scared, or unsure. I want help with nurturing my confidence, maybe now more than ever. And I love me a partner in crime. This person can be a significant other, a dear past coach, a trusted mentor. In my reality, it’s all of these people at different times, hence the board analogy.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone who will shamelessly make me feel better. At others, it’s nice to be able to brainstorm about what I might be overlooking in training, the auxiliary parts that my coach doesn’t oversee. For example, how do I process the “failure” of the workout last week? Should I re-evaluate nutrition, strength and recovery for missing links? Or is it better to reframe, realize that I’m completing longer and more intense sessions than I ever have, that it’s only in comparison to training partners that it seems I’m coming up short? Questions like this are always popping up through the duration of a season… when to make changes, when to stay the course. Improvement is a dynamic process. Of course I could come up with answers on my own, but seeing my development through an advisor’s eyes can be enlightening and reassuring.

I believe my ability to stay positive, long-term focused, confident, purposeful, joyful, has been due to an incredible support group. People like this impart a feeling of security, they enable me to take risks and dream big. I can’t imagine my career and track accomplishments without them.

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.* 👊🏼

Rookie mistake

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This week I made the classic mistake. I hoped for an easy workout.
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I’d been dealing with a sinus infection and woke up feeling weak. I didn’t want to skip the workout, but also didn’t want to make myself sick. If I really was unwell, I shouldn’t have gone to practice. But since I was there, there’s nothing worse than starting a workout wanting it to be easy.

First off, going in with that mindset might actually make it harder, because you set yourself up for a higher relative perceived exertion (learned more about this from the book Peak Performance. Next on the list is Alex Hutchinson’s Endure). ⠀ ⠀
But also, the whole point is for it to be hard! That’s where the improvement happens. You come to appreciate that feeling. I learned that from Kim Conley. She is the best at leaning in when it’s getting uncomfortable.
Finally, beginning with a caveat makes it easier to fall off. You’re not committed, so you have to make the decision to commit over and over again throughout the session.

End result: I did the workout. Big surprise: it was hard. In a nice case of life imitating art, I thought of my IG post in the final minutes of the tempo to help me stay connected… I will keep the workout streak alive!

I hope it was the right call doing the session. I’m trying to take good care of myself and stay healthy. And moving forward, I will be content with making my cake. I’ll wait to eat it for a while longer. 😋

Where is the catch?

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If you couldn’t tell from last post… I was feeling myself. 🤣 Workouts have been going well, and that is especially satisfying because the opposite situation is still fresh in my mind. But whenever there are a few good weeks in a row, an uneasy question creeps in; when is something going to break?

Maybe that’s just my slightly anxious disposition, though I like to think of it as an awareness brought by years of training. ⠀ ⠀
The purpose of training is to push your edge. That’s how improvement happens. But always riding the edge is risky… it’s not hard to take a few wrong steps and fall over. (That could mean injury, illness, or just extreme fatigue). And there’s never more uncertainty than when you’re doing things you’ve never done before. How much is enough? How much is too much?

The signs that you’re getting out of range are not always straightforward. One I’ve learned to watch in myself is when I start neglecting close friends and family. Not that I have to be the social butterfly, but if I go AWOL, to the point where my mom is calling my sister to see if I’m alive, that might mean something (Thanks mom 😉). And that’s happened with a few people recently. ⠀ ⠀
So. If I’ve made a jump in fitness, the initial reaction might be, “this is great, let’s keep pushing.” But instead, I try to make sure other inputs remain the same as I’m used to (example: mileage, physio work, sleep, food). I’ll go to bed extra early and take recovery runs at an easier pace if I see signs of excessive fatigue.

The more I view this as a long game, the more confidence I have in those decisions. Improvements maybe happen in spurts, but the real progress comes when you’re able to maintain those spurts over years of healthy training. Nothing is perfect, but whatever method gets close to that goal is one I can live with.

Photo by Jordan Beckett