Do your own thing. No, seriously, do your own thing. You don’t have to train like a pro athlete, nor should you want to. You don’t have to be a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten/dairy free or whatever to have “the look”. You don’t (nor would I recommend) have to quit your job (you’re good at it, get better), to complete a super inspiring bucket list race. We are, understandably, attracted to the “lifestyle” we watch on film, TV, and the web, or read about in magazines, journals, and autobiographies. It’s a beautiful thing… portrayed simplicity… single minded focus… me and my goals… freedom of doing what I want, when I want to, etc.
I’m a firm believer that the mind is our strongest, sharpest, and swiftest tool. Whether we think we can, or can’t we are right. Competition and training place us in direct contact with these thoughts. A few years ago, when I started running trail races and ultra-marathons I had no idea what my potential would be. I knew that as long as I didn’t quit, I would finish. Obvious right? Lining up for my first trail half-marathon in Los Alamos, NM I didn’t know if I’d come in last or towards the front. It was a big unknown, and it concerned me. I’d placed a certain level of importance on how well I would do. Why? I attached “self-worth” to my placing in the race. This of course added stress and anxiety to an otherwise completely laid back and positive experience. In the end the race went well. I started off conservatively, and pushed hard on the back half of the race to finish 6th place overall. I felt good about myself. I felt relieved.
Being self-coached lends itself to walking a fine line. The physical and nutritional is pretty easy to maintain as long as you listen to your body. On the other hand, the mental, emotional, and rational side of physical fitness is very difficulty to keep control over. You see we can talk ourselves into or out of doing anything. We’ve all done it. It’s a tough habit to break and even to recognize. Self-assessment is easier said than done.
The past weekend I found myself browsing facebook and twitter for information on upcoming trail races around the country. After a few minutes of clicking I found myself reading athlete training logs, and blogs from around the country. People are very open in what they are doing to prepare, posting workouts, miles ran, elevation gained, etc. In my head I started comparing my fitness and workouts to what they had done and were doing. I felt I was getting behind. My worry bounced from my climate (icy, snowy, long hard winter), to my lower leg tendinitis, and to other “reasons” why I wasn’t putting in big miles and epic training runs in preparation for my race season. I made excuses (it’s not important anymore, I have other goals now, etc.). A few days later I was thinking back on the first trail marathon, 50-mile trail race and 100-mile trail race I ran back in 2012. I went into each event totally naïve, with no expectations. My goal was to do my best and to finish the race. In short, I raced well that year. I placed 5th overall in the Leadville Trail Marathon (June), 10th overall in the Leadville 50-mile race (July), and 2nd overall in the Heartland 100-mile race (October).
I was excited to compete and it showed in my results. No expectations. No pressure. Plenty of smiles, miles and finish line jubilation were experienced.
Since then I’ve had races that went really well and a few others that didn’t go well at all. In hindsight, the races I competed poorly in I went to them over-trained, tired, mentally fatigued, and with a little self-doubt. I put too much pressure on myself based on past performances. I didn’t rest enough. I raced too often. I was racing and training without a coach. I did it the hard way and it showed.
Athletics are no different from academics or business. To be our best selves we need mentors, leaders and coaches. No excuses. Our time on this planet is so short. Each experience and endeavor deserves our best effort. Our most intelligent approach to the process, which will lead us to the product, can be the most elusive piece to the puzzle.
As a coach by profession, my job is to make you headstrong, confident, injury free, and able. Through self-trial and error I’ve learned invaluable lessons on performance, prioritization, and realistic goals, planning, training. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything as they’ve made me a better coach. Where I am on the path is where I want my students to be, without the low points, struggle and self-doubt that it took me to get here.