During this Thanksgiving season, it’s customary to reflect on the things for which we are most grateful. For many of us, this takes place around a dinner table overflowing with decadent food, surrounded by family and friends. As we reflect on our blessings, family, friends, and our economic well-being rank high on the list. Also included our professional achievements, educational accolades, and of course athletic accomplishments. However, in reflecting on the bigger picture of life, there are blessings we sometimes fail to include on our list. Here are a few lesser-included reasons to be grateful that sometimes don’t make the cut:
5 lesser-remembered reasons to be grateful:
So, there you have it. Those are 5 lesser-remembered reasons to be grateful this Holiday Season.
The Marine Corps Marathon happened this two weeks ago in Arlington and DC, and it was anything but optimum conditions. With rain, 98% humidity, and soaring temps, it felt more like racing in Florida than in Northern Virginia. Ironically, the unofficial Marine Corps motto is “Improvise, adapt, overcome”, and that is exactly what tens of thousands of runners had to do in order to complete this most challenging of races.
“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is a great mantra for not only the Marines, or for running the MCM, but for ALL exercise endeavors. So many times, our fitness ventures don’t go according to plan. How many times do our workout or race plans get derailed by some unforeseen challenge? Responding to adversity can make or break a workout- not to mention a race. By adhering to the Marine Corps mantra, we can ensure that while our outcomes may not exactly meet our expectations, our effort level can.
The mental fortitude that allows us to improvise in unforeseen situations, adapt to changing circumstances, and overcome obstacles that threaten success, can be the difference between finishing a workout or a race strong, or falling short. Here are three great examples of improvising, adapting, and overcoming different challenges to achieve success when fitness endeavors go awry:
A few weeks back, TFE triathlete Theresa Helsel had an incredible performance at the North Carolina Ironman 70.3 race in Wilmington, NC. She had a fast 1.2 mile swim, a solid 56 mile bike, and blistering 13.1 mile run to carry her across the line in just over 5 hours and 10 minutes. She was poised, methodical, and calm as she raced to her best finish ever.
But she didn’t start out that way. She had to IMPROVISE at the last minute to ensure she’d even be able to complete the race! As all triathletes know, a very big factor in racing long-course events is nutrition, with each athlete meticulously calculating how many calories, how much sodium, and how many carbohydrates they need to consume on the bike in order to have a strong run. After all, fueling for 5 hours can be tricky to say the least! Mess it up and athletes can be underfueled, resulting in the dreaded ‘bonk’, or overfueled resulting in the equally dismal GI distress (aka, being stomach sick). A veteran of dozens of triathlons, Theresa had her fuel down to a science, with all her vital nutrition in a highly concentrated water bottle she’d planned to carry with her on the bike. However, prior to the start, her bottle leaked out all over while setting things up in transition and was left without ANY of her fuel for the entire bike ride! After initially panicking as any triathlete would do, she was able to calm down and improvise a fuel solution. With the help of half a dozen other kind-hearted triathletes, Theresa combined a little bit of several other competitors’ nutrition into her single bottle. She had a cocktail of Gatorade Endurance, Tailwind, Scratch, Infinit, and others all mixed together to replace the customized nutrition she’d lost. Her ability to think quickly to improvise a solution allowed her not only to compete in the event, but to race faster than she’d ever had.
While the fueling wasn’t optimal, it allowed Theresa to be able to get the job done. As we confront the various obstacles that threaten our workout, an improvised solution may not be the best choice, but it gets the job done. Whether we’re competing in an Ironman triathlon without our custom fuel or show up at the gym and realize we’ve forgotten our socks for our workout; we can improvise. Keeping calm and looking for ways to complete the task instead of for reasons to throw in the towel allows us to see things a bit differently and find a way to reach our goals.
TFE personal training client Aileen Gozales leads a busy life. With one son off to college and her daughter in Jr. High, this single mom does it all- supporting her daughter's soccer team on the weekend and working in a high-stress consulting job during the week. With all she needs to do, she still prioritizes her heath and fitness by getting in two personal training sessions and several runs or bike rides during the week. However, even her best laid plans many times go awry, leaving Aileen to ADAPT her schedule to find ways to include all important exercise in her day.
During the days when a structured workout can’t be achieved, Aileen adapts her work environment to allow her the maximum amount of physical activity which helps her to maintain her fitness gains. When she takes the metro to work, she will purposefully park her car at the far end of the metro station, maximizing the amount of steps she takes to get to her train. She will also carry a backpack loaded with a laptop, files, and extra books for added weight while she power walks between buildings at her job. Aileen constantly adapts to her work environment by taking the stairs, whether it be at the metro or up the 4 flights to her office. Even though this isn’t a structured workout, she burns calories, improves her cardiovascular system, and builds her muscular endurance- quite literally- all in a day’s work. As I’ve said before, something is always better than nothing, and this is a great example of Aileen doing something by adapting her environment to help meet her fitness goals.
When we change our perspective to ‘HOW can I fit in my fitness’, instead of ‘there’s NO way I can fit in fitness into my busy life’, then we can find a way to adapt to any situation to help us remain healthy and active. This is a critical key for Aileen and should be for anyone who wants to prioritize their health and fitness goals.
Sometimes, there’s simply nothing we can do to change our circumstances for the better- we simply have to OVERCOME a challenging situation that throws us off our game, whether that be in a highly competitive event like Ironman or during the highly complicated routine of life. Recently I had a situation where that very thing happened:
Last month while competing in Ironman Maryland, I was caught off guard and had to work hard to overcome a challenging start to the race. As many know, there are many moving pieces to an Ironman event, and to ensure we have the best performance possible, triathletes have specific pre-race routines we follow in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to a big event. Race morning of the Ironman is no time to change that routine, however that is exactly what happened.
My pre-race routine was going well, and I’d just finished pumping up my bike tires in the transition area, dropped off my special needs bags (extra things I may need while running or riding), checked my run and bike gear, and headed over for one last bathroom break prior to the race starting. According to the race schedule, I had plenty of time- yet as I stood in line for the bathroom, to my horror I heard over the loudspeaker that the race would be starting EARLIER than the prescribed time. I was still in line for the bathroom with 15 people in front of me, and the race was starting early! So, I stepped out of line, began the process of getting on my wetsuit, and by the time I zipped it up and put on my goggles, the gun went off.
As with all ‘rolling start’ Ironman races, athletes self-seed by projected swim finish time, and I wanted to be in the 1:00-1:10 group, which was the second group to go off. By the time I cut to the front of the line, meandering my way through literally thousands of other anxious swimmers, I entered into the water with the 1:20-1:30 group. This meant I would be swimming the entire 2.4 mile course with people that were much slower than me, causing me to swim over, around, and across hundreds of others, significantly slowing me down and making for a much more physically demanding swim effort.
In this case, (and many others in both fitness AND life) there was nothing I could do to improvise, adapt, or change my situation. As the saying goes, “it is what it is”. And on that day, it ‘was what it was’. I simply had to work a little bit harder than I would otherwise have to, and get a less than optimal result. However, I didn’t panic, stayed calm, and kept perspective. This allowed me to be patient on the swim and later on the bike, being careful not to overdo it and push too hard on the bike in order to ‘make up’ for the slow swim. In times past, when unforeseen circumstances have happened in a race (such as a bike flat, stomach issues, equipment malfunction, etc.) I’ve been derailed by focusing on what’s gone wrong, NOT by staying in the moment and focusing on what’s going right or by what I can do to systematically make up the shortfall.
This time, however, I remained calm and focused on the present. I just chipped away little by little at the deficit and overcame a terrible race start to have a solid personal best finish. The mental focus to stay in the present is critical in overcoming hurdles that threaten to slow our progress toward any goal, whether it be during an Ironman race or a slightly less ambitious health and fitness goal.
So, the next time your workout plans, race plans, or life plans go awry, take a cue from the Marines. Have the mental fortitude to improvise, adapt, and overcome. It may not be the expected result- but you can ensure the expected effort will be there and the results will take care of themselves. In fact, they may be even better than you’d hoped- just ask Theresa!
Triathlon by its very nature is a loney, solitary sport. However, during race weekends triathletes come together with spectators, friends, and volunteers and it seems the entire world revolves around swimming, biking, and running. This was the case this past weekend at Ironman Maryland. It was wonderful to see all the athletes, volunteers, and spectators supporting each other in lofty, ambitious, superhuman goals. As I reflected on all the people that contributed to me being there on race day, I considered the team each athlete has around them which brings them success. There are spouses and families, physical therapists and chiropractors, and of course training partners. And while I as a coach caution about training exclusively in groups, there are some significant advantages to working out with others.
Whether it be group fitness classes, meeting a buddy for an early gym session, or doing the Saturday morning group ride, training alongside others has some significant benefits. And while I generally train alone, I join up with others ever so often for a myriad of reasons. In fact, there are many benefits to training with a partner or group. Here are a few of my favorites:
So, the next time you’re struggling to stay motivated during a workout, faltering a bit on your goals, are stagnant in your training, or find your workouts just plain dull, grab a friend and give it a go together. See how you do. If you’re like most people, you might see an uptick in your performance or simply find it just a bit easier to hit the pool, gym, or trail at 5am.
Over the past several weeks, the heat index in the DC area has topped 105 numerous times. Two weeks ago, I found myself on training ride where I had to simply pull over and find the nearest 7-Eleven and down a Slurpee and a bottle of Gatorade as possible to keep my core temperature in check. Prior to that day, I can’t remember the last time I had a slurpee…
On the East Coast, we are no stranger to heat and humidity, and most experienced athletes know how much it can adversely affect performance. In fact, I wrote about effectively training in the heat several years ago and you can find the entire article here , where I mention numerous tips which include things like slowing down or training indoors. However, what happens when you are in a competition, and racing indoors or reducing intensity simply isn’t an option except in the most dire of circumstances? So how do we effectively race when it’s hot and humid? Here are 6 tips to help you race better in the heat:
While adhering to these principles may not generate a personal best during a hot race, they could very well keep you from a heat-related disaster while striving for one. So, the next race where the temperature soars, remember these tips to ensure you cross the finish line safely!
This month’s performances were particularly challenging, and each of those athletes needed to not only call upon their training and fitness to compete, but they had to call on their mental toughness to finish their races. In fact, I was talking about the mental side of training with one client earlier in the month who was concerned about faltering in a race he’s competed in several times, but without achieving his goal of going sub 5:00 for the 70.3 distance triathlon.
Sometimes even though we are at the peak of our fitness, the mind can be a bigger part of why we struggle than the body. We start to think negatively, we doubt our training, and irrational thoughts do creep in. Especially when the workout or race is going poorly. However, there are three ways we sharpen our mental game and be more prepared to combat those negative thoughts when they surface, achieving a solid performance even when the cards are stacked against us :
1)Rehearse a simple, positive mantra. Find a saying you can use as a positive affirmation when things get dicey. I’ve used ones such as “race your own race”, “ focused, calm, relaxed, strong“, and “you’re strong, your focus, your experienced.” Think of something positive that resonates with you. Rehearse this as you do your workouts - and then often during the race, especially when this get tough. While the race will still be hard, the story you tell yourself matters. Ever heard of the placebo effect? What you believe matters!
2) Be in the present and focus on the process. Sometimes, we focus so much on the end result (qualifying for worlds, a sub five hour finish, etc.) I had it eclipses all the hard work we’ve done. If we focus too much on a hard time goal or in result. If something goes off track on race day is easy to spiral our thoughts out of control and think “I’m not going to finish in my goal time”, “what’s the point”, “I don’t think I can make it up”, and so we don’t stay in the present and focus on the process of recovering from whatever adversity has happened and getting back to the race. Case in point- My chiropractor won the XTerra world championships (off road triathlon) as an amateur when she was riding her mountain bike and someone crashed in front of her and cut an artery she jumped off her bike to help him, and in doing so thought for sure she’d jeopardized her own chances of winning. However, because she was now free from the stress of being hyper focused on her outcome, she just enjoy the process and raced incredibly. And ended up winning in becoming an amateur world champion.
3) Visualize your success. This allows you to create in your mind the perfect race, the trick being not seeing yourself in the third person but experiencing it in the first person mentally. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, and I remember writing a paper on mental imagery and visualization in sport. While doing research, I read about a veteran who was POW for 4 years in Vietnam. Prior to the war, he was a very good (scratch) golfer. To help pass the time in captivity, he would spend several hours a day visualizing playing golf at his favorite golf course every single day. Upon his release and return to the US, his first round of golf he received the exact score he did 4 years prior with zero practice other than his daily visualizations. What this and countless other research shows is that the mind can’t tell the difference between something vividly imagined and something that actually occurs. So, use that mind to vividly imagine your success on race day!
So, as you prepare for your upcoming events, remember to have a positive mantra you can tell yourself. Stay in the present, focusing on the process. And finally, visualize your success. In the same way you execute your physical workouts, dedicated some time to sharpen your mental game.
Spring signals the arrival of three things: warm weather, the Easter bunny, and triathlon season. And as such, we’ve already seen several TFE athletes dawning swimskin, lacing up the Nikes, and dialing in that aero position in hopes of fast times this race season. There is so much that goes in to racing- and April is usually the first month where we get to dust off the cobwebs of Winter and see the results of all of that off-season training. As athletes, we spend months dialing in our FTP on the bike, refining our swim technique in the pool, and hammering out tempo runs on the street. Yet many times triathletes neglect one very important element of our race: the transition.
There is the one place during a triathlon where everyone is equal - the transition. A speedy transition doesn’t require any great amount of talent or skill. It doesn’t demand hours of training and the most cutting edge gear. It’s the one time where the ordinary back of the back age-group athlete can be just as fast as the the seasoned pro or elite level athlete. And it's apparent in every triathlon you’ll see.
In fact, I remember witnessing this last year while coaching a few clients and friends at a 70.3 race in Florida last year. As I cheered each of them on, I also watched other athletes as they entered and exited transition, some fluidly and some not so much. In one instance, I was surprised to see an Ironman All-World Athlete (someone who is ranked in the top 5% of Ironman age-group athletes) running up from the swim in a complete panic. First, she couldn’t find her bike, and when she finally did, she struggled to get her wetsuit off, sitting on the ground tugging at her ankles as she muttered the occasional curse word. After a minute or so she finally won the battle with the wetsuit and hastily grabbed her helmet, put it on and fastened it...backwards! Then, she struggled to put on her socks, then finally her shoes, and rushed out of transition. I was taken aback by what a challenge the transition was for her. This was a very good athlete- super fit, very fast, obviously very accomplished- but her transition was a disaster.
While the transition only accounts for a fraction of the overall time of the race, those minutes do add up- especially if you’re on track for a PR or podium finish. But more importantly, frantic, disorganized transitions can create stress, elevating the heart rate, and ratting the nerves when an athlete needs to remain calm and stay in control. So, how do you succeed at the shortest part of a triathlon?
Check out these 7 steps for a faster transition:
The transition is the easiest and shortest part of the race. Using these 7 steps, you’ll have a fast, fluid transition and save valuable time as you race toward a PR, a podium spot, or just feeling like a pro.
It’s the start of race season, and we’ve already seen some amazing performances by some of our TFE athletes, and we’ve got at least 6 more months of racing to go! So, as many of you are heading into upcoming races, I thought it a great time to brush up on some pre-race tips- in particular how to taper correctly. Tapering involves strategically reducing an athlete’s training load for several days (or weeks), allowing for adequate recovery from a high-volume training block while still maintaining optimum fitness. A proper taper helps the athlete arrive at the start line healthy, well-rested, and ready to perform at a high level. Timing a taper can be tricky and there is no perfect approach that fits for everyone- however there are some guidelines that if followed, can help ensure you line up on race day well-rested and ready to have an epic day.
Check out my 5 tips to master the taper:
So, as hard as it may seem, trust the taper. The body will appreciate the healing recovery time and mental break from high volume and intensity work. If done correctly, the taper can be the difference between lining up at the start line in optimum condition or showing up over trained and fighting off sickness or injury. Enjoy your next taper and good luck this race season!
Despite the groundhog seeing his shadow, we’re still in the 30’s and 40’s here in the DC area. Along with much of the country, we’re not seeing the warm temps just yet which can put a real damper in the Springtime workouts many of us look forward too. So, to help us get through the last bit of winter, I’ve listed a few of my favorite cold-weather workouts (some are indoors;) They are all under an hour and are actually fun!
Treadmill intervals. Now I know many runners roll their eyes when we mention treadmill and fun in the same sentence, but bear with me. A treadmill is a great way to work on both run technique and overall fitness in a very short amount of time. The challenge is that most people jump on the treadmill and just plug away at the same pace, on and on and on with no variation. Not so fun. Instead, mix things up by doing the following:
Bike trainer HIIT workout. Riding indoors can be tough. It’s hot, even with a fan blowing full blast, which causes the heart rate to climb and the sweat to flow. However, with the advent of smart trainers, and digital platforms like Zwift, and Trainer Road, long boring trainer sessions are a thing of the past. However, if you’ve just got a standard trainer , spin bike, or upright stationary bike, you can still get a great workout:
Running/Walking the stairwell. In another lifetime, I had a sales territory that spanned Northern California and Northern Nevada. When traveling for work in the wintertime, I would stay in the tallest hotel/casino in Reno just to so I could run the stairwell. It was 24 stories, and when it was too cold and icy to run outside (usually the case when I was there), I’d simply walk from my hotel room to the stairwell, drop my water bottle at my floor, and get to it. It wasn’t glamorous, but I loved the simplicity of it. Whether you live in a 4 story walk up or a 30 story high rise- it’s a great change of pace and each landing or floor is a built in rest stop if you need it. Sometimes, I’d add in some push ups or crunches on different floors to break up the workout. Get creative and feel that heart pound! Try this:
Trail running/hiking. This is a great way to change up the normal routine. When I travel home for the holidays (out to Utah), my twin brother and I go on trail runs. It’s a great time to slow down and see some beautiful views. Typically, his pace is a touch slower than mine, but at his home turf of 5,000 ft elevation he runs like a billy goat, and in that thin air I struggle a bit to keep up. When it’s been snowy, the workout is a combination of hiking and running in the snow making it more challenging but also more fun. If the trail is dry, try the following:
Cross country skiing/snowshoeing. I don’t know a single person who has tried either of these and wouldn’t do it again. If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with snow, what a way to take advantage of a PHENOMENAL workout. It’s low impact, highly aerobic, and engages the entire body, all the while being surrounded by Mother Nature. The last time I donded the cross country skis was a few years ago at the 2002 Olympic course at Soldier Hollow. But you don’t have to go to a specific course to ski or snowshoe! The last big storm we had, there were cross-country skiers out in downtown DC on the National Mall (one of which was TFE ultra-runner and winter-sport phenom Liss Sloss:) For these incredible winter workouts, no need for structure- just grab your skis, snowshoes, and poles and have at it!
There you have it- 5 incredible workouts for when the mercury plummets. All are highly effective, creative, and less than an hour. So don’t let the cold weather put a damper on your fitness goals. Next time you need to change things up a bit, try one of my 5 Favorite Winter Workouts to burn the calories and build some cardio in the process.
The winter months always make me think of running. When I lived in California, “winters” were spent running through miles and miles of trails, through the lush foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I’d travel back to Utah during the Holidays where most days I would wear cold weather running gear, throw Yaak Trax on my trail shoes for added traction, and head out in the snow for an hour or two of frosty solitude. Now that I’m in DC, I don’t make it back to UT or CA as much, but I still focus on running during the winter months. As such, I’m a bit more observant of other runners- be it outside or on the treadmills at the gym. As I engage with other runners,I am reminded of some essential keys that every runner should understand. At the same time, I see the pitfalls that MOST runners commit in the quest to become faster or fitter. Hopefully, you don’t fall into the trap others do. See if you’re guilty of doing any of these 5 Pitfalls Runners Make:
1) Running too far, too fast, too soon. Ever been injured? Most runners - 70% in fact- get hurt every year and more often than not, it’s because they ran either too far or too fast before their body was able to handle the added intensity or duration. To safely improve as a runner (or as an athlete in most disciplines), the body has to adhere to the SAID principle: Systematic Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Basically, it means your body needs time to slowly adapt to greater demands (speeds and/or duration). If runners try to increase the demands without adequate adaptation, injury is usually the result. However, most runners can gradually build speed and distance by simply using the ‘10% rule’, in which runners increase the time of their long run by 10% per week (if running an hour one week, the next week would be running 1:06, etc.)
2) Running the same pace every run. Albert Einstein is credited with coining the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again but expecting a different result.” I know virtually nothing about astrophysics, but I can tell you from a running perspective, that if you run the same pace over and over and over, you won’t get much faster. And THAT’S insanity to me. To overcome the dreaded plateaus that all runners face, the ‘imposed demands’ (remember that from earlier) have to be varied. For example, novice marathon runners tend to run most of their runs at one pace. They might add a tempo run here, or speed work there, but by and large, there isn’t enough variety in their workouts to challenge their bodies and force adaptation to faster speeds. One simple way to vary runs is by using the ‘sandwich’ principle. If a runner runs 5 days a week, 2 days are significantly slower than goal race pace, 2 days are significantly faster than goal race pace, and one day is at race pace (the “race-pace” day is sandwiched by two faster run days and two slower run days).
3) Running the ‘fast runs’ too slow, and the ‘slow runs’ too fast. I see this all across the board- from the novice runners I coach all the way up to my sub-elite athletes. Most runners don’t have problem pushing the pace, but they DO have a problem with running slow on the recovery days. The discipline to go slow is a critical part of training- as it allows the body to recover fully for the next high intensity (or ‘fast’) workout. With the body fully recovered (having run the ‘slow/recovery’ run at the right pace), the speed workouts (hard tempos, dedicated speed work, or race pace intervals built into long runs) can be run at the proper paces. Over time, the body adjusts to the demands and the runner can go longer and/or faster. However, if the runner fails to fully recover by running slow, residual fatigue builds up and limits the athlete’s potential in hard, long, or even race-day efforts.
4) Improper strength training or avoiding it all together. I get it- by nature, runners would rather be outdoors running than inside a dank, musty, gym competing against body builders for time on the squat rack. However, that time goes a LONG way to preventing injury (Remember that 70% stat from earlier?) Because running is a repetitive, anterior-based exercise, we naturally develop muscle imbalances that if not corrected will lead to watching that next 5k or Marathon from the sidelines. I know far too many runners that head to the weight room, do some bench presses, arm curls, some sit ups, and a few triceps extensions, and call it strength training. Not so. An effective strength routine uses compound lifts involving the posterior-chain (think deadlifts, heavy squats, hang cleans, etc.), engages the core muscles, and focuses on single-leg stability and strength. It also focuses on lifting moderate to heavy weight at different times of the year based on a periodized training schedule. Not only will this lead to injury-free runs, but the leg power acquired from lifting correctly will allow for quicker accelerations up hills, help lessen fatigue later in the race, and enable a faster kick down the finishing chute.
6) Neglecting technique work. Even the most elite runners in the world still practice run technique. In college, I trained alongside several Olympians, and I still remember seeing Frankie Fredericks doing drill after drill every single day. (He won the Silver medal in the 100m and the 200m in BOTH the 1992 and 1996 Olympics) And it’s not just the sprinters that practice run technique - it’s even more important for distance runners, as we’re so much more concerned with running economy, especially as races get in the the later stages. Yet how many of us dedicate time each week to doing specific running drills? Do we practice on improving run cadence, carriage (posture), and footfall? Are we working on the flexibility required to open our hips and allow for quicker trail-leg recoil? If not, we sure should! As I’ve told every runner (and triathlete) I’ve ever coached, it’s almost always a better use of time to do 10 minutes of running drills as a warm up, run a purposeful 40 minutes, then do 10 minutes of stability/mobility/flexibility work, than to simply run straight for 60 minutes.
So, as you run this Winter (and into the Spring season) be sure not to succumb to these 5 pitfalls so many fellow runners do. Avoid them and you'll be well on your way to a successful season. Ease into your training, vary your run intensities, run the slow runs slower, put in your time in the gym, and work on those run mechanics and watch those race times fall.
With the New Year upon us, and the Christmas season just concluding, it's a great time to reflect on 2018 and all the positive changes made during the calendar year. For me, my business grew by almost 15%, I posted a PR returning to Ironman triathlon after a 4 year hiatus, and qualified for the Boston Marathon on a last-minute whim. I had clients get into wedding-shape, runners that completed life-long race goals, and triathletes who became first-time Ironmen. And while all those accomplishments are incredible in their own right, nothing compares to the birth of my son. With the arrival of this 7 pound little wonder, my entire outlook on life has shifted in an almost indescribable way. Everyone said that would happen. That I’d see the world just a little bit differently. From how I would spend my time, to my goals in life, to my triathlon training, etc. They said it would all change. And they were right!
It’s interesting how our perspective changes. Sometimes our viewpoint changes due to something expected, that you try to prepare for, but that still permanently alters your world in a way you never thought it would- like having a child. At times, a shift in perspective is brought about by something unexpectedly life-altering, such as a sudden accident or illness. At times these shifts are short-term and quick, such as during a race when adjustments have to be made due to weather, fueling, or hydration issues. And sometimes these shifts are instigated by a slow burning desire to change contemplated over years. Whatever path we are on, or whatever the course we need to alter, it’s critical we keep the right perspective during the process. A loss in perspective can be tough to overcome, especially when things go poorly, leading to lots of frustration and difficulty, be it on race day, in the gym, or in life.
To help keep the right perspective in the fitness world (or outside of it for that matter), I find it helpful to remember 2 key principles:
Remember the big picture. So many times, we lose perspective simply because we take our eye off the ball. We don’t focus on the big picture and allow ourselves to be caught up in the minutia of the moment, failing to take a step back and recognize that trajectory is more important that perfection. A while ago, I read a book on personal improvement called, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”, which talked about not becoming preoccupied with minor setbacks, and how not to let the small things take us off track. Yet so many times I see clients fall into that trap.
After several months of slow but steady progress, one client was absolutely despondent after returning from an family emergency that took her out of town for several weeks. Due to the circumstances, she was unable to maintain her fitness and nutrition regimen while attending to family, and backslid into poor habits while on the trip. Upon her return she was frustrated with herself, becoming discouraged at her loss of immediate progress. For several weeks, she struggled with getting back into her routine, and her workouts and nutrition continued to suffer. She'd lost sight of the big picture; she’d forgotten that this process was about long-term, fundamental lifestyle change, not being perfect week in and week out. She focused on those few weeks when her fitness took a backseat to her family’s needs, not on the several months of fitness success prior. Her trajectory was still headed in the right direction, even if she had a few bad weeks.
So, in those low moments when you’re off track, and struggling, step back and asses your trajectory- are you trending in the right direction? Are the majority of your decisions trying to take you toward your goals? If so, then you’re on track. And that’s the big picture. Remember it!
The second principle to help you keep perspective may seem somewhat contradictory to the last;
The little things matter. Remembering the big picture is paramount, but the ‘little things’ matter. I once heard a saying that goes, “Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character, character leads to destiny”. I’ve always loved that quote, because it underscores the point that small things (a thought) leads to great things (our destiny). Keeping the right perspective involves doing the little things daily to get us to our goals.
Recently, I listened to a podcast in which an elite marathon runner was talking about his training leading up to a major event. I was struck by a few of his points in referring to his preparation for the race. The host asked if he was unsure he would be able to achieve his race goal, and he responded ‘no’, because he had done the work. He had put in the time, day in and day out which enabled him to get to the starting line healthy. He took his rest days, slow runs, and strength training just as seriously as he took his speed work, tempo runs, and marathon pace runs. He stuck with prescribed paces, and rested when he was supposed to and did the work every day that was going to get him to his goal. That process allowed him to maintain perspective about the importance of the process as a whole, and how each day fit into that.
Sometimes, as athletes we don’t look at how the pieces fit- we misfire on race day because we skip our recovery days or strength training and we come to the start line injured or overtrained. So, to help maintain that critical perspective that the ‘little things matter’, remember each day to focus why you are doing the work. Are you doing a recovery run, speed work, burning as many calories in the gym as possible, or strengthening a specific muscle group? Remember why you are doing these specific things. Consistent, daily adherence to workouts drives results. Pay attention to the “Little things’, because they matter!
So, with the upcoming New Year ahead, remember to keep perspective. To help do that, ‘remember the big picture’, and that ‘little things matter’. Whether it be on the track, out on the road, in the gym, or in life, don’t lose perspective on what matters most.