This weekend is the highly anticipated USA Olympic Trials for the Marathon in Atlanta, GA. I’ve been counting down this date for several months, so excited to see which three women and three men get to wear the red, white, and blue for Team USA in Tokyo later this year. It will be an incredible display of talent, grit, and determination for everyone to see. Some of these athletes are full-time professional runners, but most wear many hats in addition to being elite runners. With over 700 in the field, their backgrounds and stories vary wildly.
However, each of those runners have a few things in common- and those are things as amateur athletes we can all take note of. In fact, the best athletes across ALL disciplines share several keys we can utilize to help us become better or faster or stronger:
1- Elite athletes build a strong foundation.
I once had the privilege of hearing 3x Ironman World Champion Miranda Carfrae speak at a forum. It was a great opportunity to hear about the work it took for her to compete at the level where she was so dominant, hearing about her beginnings and success in short-course racing and once having won her first half-iron distance event (earning a slot in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii), she deferred her entry and chose not to race. She waited for 2 years before she felt strong enough (mentally and physically) to compete. Great athletes pay the price for excellence in their sports. They build a strong foundation first by doing the hard work required to excel. For us non-elites, this means putting in the time in the gym, running the slow miles, and focusing on health, daily nutrition to help build a foundation from which to grow.
2- Elite athletes pay attention to the small things.
As the elite marathoners take the course on Saturday, each one of them will have a custom hydration/fueling bottle on course for them every 5k throughout the race. This gives each athlete the opportunity to customize their fueling and nutrition strategy to give them the perfect balance of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and calories necessary to perform at their absolute best on race day. These athletes focus on the small things that are critical to their success. As weekend warriors, we can do the same. And while most likely we won’t have customized fueling/hydration options at every aid station during the races we run, we can be just as meticulous in our preparation for workouts, races, everyday life. We can plan our meals so we don’t have to resort to the vending machine snacks at work, and fuel smartly during workouts and races to help maximize our efforts. We can lay out clothing and gear choices in advance of our workouts, keeping our gym or swim bag in the car so we can hit the gym or pool on the way to or from work.
3- Elite athletes are consistent over time.
Elites practice over and over and over again. They have a training plan and they execute it in preparation for an event or season, being consistent over time. Think of the thousands of free throws Kobe Bryant shot in practice before each season even began. Kobe was one of the greatest players of all time, punctuated by his play in clutch situations- such as free point shooting. For me, a more relatable example comes from 7x Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who in 2003 was asked by my Dad’s company to give a keynote address at an annual conference (for a fee of $250,000). The request was submitted approximately 9 months in advance of the event, yet his immediate reply was no, because that was the date of a long training ride. Not a race, not a camp, not an event. He was practicing that day and was not willing to give up one day of hard practice for a quarter million dollars. For all his faults, Lance Armstrong was a meticulously hard worker who was on the bike day in and day out. Every. Single. Day.
4- Elite athletes have help.
All Elite athletes get help. The grand majority use a coach, and many have a team of professionals who help them prepare themselves to perform the best during competition. Consider the Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs, or any NFL team for that matter. The average NFL team has 15 coaches in addition to a large staff who supports them. Professional runners, tennis players, track and field athletes, swimmers, and triathletes all have coaches. A coach provides critical feedback, guidance, and perspective that are vital for optimum performance. Trusting a coach to focus on things like training periodization, daily workouts, and season planning, frees up the athlete to simply focus on executing each workout as best as possible.
5- Elite athletes give back.
From charitable financial contributions, to coaching others, to raising awareness for humanitarian efforts, to helping underserved communities, Elite athletes (especially professional athletes) give back. International soccer star David Becham is famous for supporting UNICEF, the Red Cross, and AIDS research. LeBron James has raised millions of dollars for the Girls and Boys Clubs. And marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge recently broke the 2:00 barrier to inspire others with the idea that 'the impossible is possible’. While we may never have the financial means or grand stage these superstars do, we can give back in our own way. One way I along with a few other TFE athletes have been able to contribute, is by running with blind athletes, allowing them to train and race for running and triathlon events. Many of you may coach your child’s soccer or basketball team. Others may contribute a few dollars to the local high school swim team fundraiser. We can all be “professionals” in how we pay it forward to help others.
While our athletic talents, achievements, and bandwidth fall far short of Elite and Professional athletes, we can learn the lessons that make them great. So this weekend, as you tune in to watch the best mathoners (or basketball players) our country has to offer, look for what makes them great. Find something that resonates with you, and incorporate it into your daily life For me, building a foundation, focusing on the small things, being consistent, utilizing help, and giving back, can go a long way in making me (and others) become just a little bit more ‘Elite’.