Last month at Ironman Maryland, I raced in the most humid conditions I’ve ever been in. It was 99% humidity at the race start, and dropped off to 90% at the end of the day. It was warm, muggy, and all together pretty painful, with the conditions wreaking havoc on the field of the almost 200 athletes in my division. In the end, I was 5th in my division, but I was only a few minutes off second place, and 83 seconds off 3rd place. 83 seconds over the course of an almost 10 hour race!
Over several weeks, I’ve thought back many times to that race, assessing where I could have made up those seconds. Had I done a few things differently, I could have been second in my division on the day (the first place guy in my division won the entire race outright- an example of how competitive it is in my group). Over the course of almost 10 hours, there are dozens of choices to make, and any number of details that can contribute to either success or failure. As I reflected on the race, It was easy to determine exactly what went wrong. I had mismanaged a few very important details in my nutrition planning, which led to my legs cramping on the bike and causing me to need to slow down significantly. I'd forgotten to pack a few salt tablets for use on the latter half of the bike portion of the race which really ended up making the bike difficult and later made the run incredibly difficult. If I had remembered to pack those tiny 4 tablets of salt, it would have changed the outcome of the race.
One of my favorite scriptures states “By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass”. The ‘little things’- the details- make the difference. Not only in Ironman racing, but in all areas of fitness, and certainly in life in general. My race result wasn’t what it could have been and was almost derailed by omitting a few seemingly small details. Conversely, amazing results can be the result of focusing on the small seemingly insignificant things. In essence, details make the difference.
One example is British cycling, which has risen to meteoric heights after a century of mediocrity by implementing a strategy coined by director David Brailsford, “the aggregation of marginal gains”. By focusing on every detail of what goes into bicycling racing, and improving it by 1%, the increase is significant once all added together. The Brits began to integrate this simple approach, with incredible results. Once the laughing stock of the cycling world, British cyclists soon became Olympic medalists, World Champions, and multiple-time Tour de France winners.
Now, most people aren't professional cyclists, or Kona-qualifying Ironman triathletes...but we all can apply the principles of ‘small and simple things’. Whether we’re trying to become a better athlete or simply trying to get in better shape, these principles apply to us all. We can begin by asking ourselves a simple question: What small things, if we improve, can propel us to meteoric heights? And conversely, what details if we overlook, will have major negative consequences in our lives? In the short term or In the long term?
For me, I’ve struggled for a while with having a consistent basic morning routine. Late nights, young children, and an erratic work schedule makes it difficult. However, on the days I dial in my mornings, the rest of my day flows much better. After all, there's a reason highly successful people have a morning routine. It’s simple and basic, but it sets the tone. My suspicion is that many struggle with the same challenge as I do. A “small and simple” routine might look like this: arising at a set time daily, have a few minutes of meditation/prayer, drink a sufficient amount of water, complete a workout, shower, have breakfast, then off to work/school/time with kids, etc.
Sounds easy, but how many of us go to bed every night with the intention to do just that, but when that alarm sounds, the execution isn’t there? One key aspect to a morning routine is adequate sleep and a consistent bedtime/awake time. Setting that alarm to go off at the same time daily- both for the morning AND for bedtime could be the “detail” that allows us to execute the planned morning routine. Ensuring adequate sleep (going to bed for example at 9:30 then rising at 5 or 5:30) gives you the energy to exercise, the clarity to perform at work, and the coveted time in the evenings to spend with family and friends.
The famous Chinese proverb states, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step". Having a solid morning routine can be just that step we need to become a little better. And the 'first step' in that morning routine can be setting that alarm. Maybe give that a try. Pull out your phone and set a bedtime alarm, then a morning alarm. Give it a go tomorrow and see how you do- and how the rest of your day goes. My guess is you’ll be glad you did. And it might just be the ‘small and simple thing’ that ends up making a big difference.
Imagine if that daily morning routine was done with consistency every day for weeks, months, and years on end. How would things change if you were able to do so daily? What tone would that set for the other aspects of your life? I suspect that we may not see monumental changes right out of the gate, but the aggregate of those small changes- that small routine applied day in and day out- could be the difference between a dream and reality. Small changes over time certainly was the key for British cycling- and it could be the same for you.