RACING MOTIVATION… A COACH/ ATHLETE PERSPECTIVE

WHY DO YOU RACE?

I love racing. I do. I love the feeling of pushing my body to it’s limits, against every other athlete out there on the day and seeing where that lands me.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been competitive. No matter the sport. I don’t generally half @arse things. I go all in, otherwise I’m out. Growing up I played team sports, netball and basketball both at a high level, and I had a dabble at soccer too. I love the competitiveness, and I love winning.

Then came along triathlon in my 20’s and I went all in there. Wanting to learn the craft, finding out how hard I could push my body and what result that would bring on race day. I would thrive off racing, and I didn’t want to settle. I was by and large ‘all in’. Racing results were my main motivation for training. And I’ve done that for 15 years, with some great success, but not with a LOT of hard work. I trained to race and I thrived off that.

BUT over the past 12 months or so, racing hasn’t been my main motivator for training anymore.

I still train every day. Sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. I still put myself through sessions that I give to my athletes so I know what they feel like / should feel like. I still like pushing myself and setting myself goals and challenges. I love the feeling of feeling fit, and healthy.

But I don’t actually have the drive to want to race to win anymore. I know I could. Because I’m stubborn like that. And I know if I wanted to, I could. But I don’t. I’ve still dabbled in running and cycling and triathlon races, but not with as much focus or as much gusto. Old me would not have raced, if I wasn’t fit and strong enough to give it my best, I wouldn’t have put myself on the start line.

And it has been hard to reconcile in my head at times. My last ‘competitive’ race was Port Macquarie Half Ironman in 2022. I finished 4th in my age group, as a full time coach, and full time mum to a 3 & 4 year old. Before that, it was 2 years prior at Geelong Half Ironman where I qualified for the Half Ironman World Champs. (Ironically being held this year in New Zealand) with a 1 & 2 year old. That was tough, but oh so satisfying!

Back then all I wanted to do was win. And I was fully engrossed in it. My whole identity was wrapped up in it. I prioritised training and racing to win over just about everything else in my life. I just wanted to WIN. Until I didn’t want to anymore…..

I saw a post a couple of years ago by another coach and it said something along the lines of a coach must be able to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. And it didn’t sit well with me. But at the same time I was like, shit I better keep racing to be able to ‘prove’ that I can and prove that I can coach – BUT then it dawned on me. The two are mutually exclusive, they don’t have to go hand in hand. Sometimes they do – which I’ve done for years. But they certainly don’t have to and we all know LOTS of successful coaches that don’t race at a high level anymore – or at all. So, with that, over the last couple of years as things have shifted, my mindset shifted and so did my priorities.

I am always saying to athletes that intrinsic motivation should be first and foremost. Of course use extrinsic motivation to aid you, to continue to drive you to be better, but your main motivator should come from within. Yet here I was, using a post I came across on facebook and the perception I thought others must have of me to continue to drive me. But like most people who rely on extrinsic motivation, that can often only last for so long….

When I had our first born (nearly 7 years ago) I wanted / needed to get back racing. I didn’t want to loose that identity as an ‘athlete’. That’s what I had known myself as for so much of my life. The satisfaction I got from it was huge and all my energy and focus was on those goals.

But in come children, two at that in quick succession and things slowly shifted. My want and need to have a singular goal and focus for myself has become lesser as our children have grown. And my growth and personal satisfaction has come more from the athletes that I coach, the group we have built, of the Club that I support, the community that we now live in and of course – my family.

I don’t need to race at the top level anymore if I don’t want to – to simply ‘walk the walk’.

I don’t need to race for external satisfaction.

I know I can now race if and when I want to.

I can race because I CAN, because I know HOW and because I LOVE to. Not because I feel I have to.

I have learnt that it is the training itself and the discipline it brings that I actually love the most, not necessarily the racing. The racing is a by product – a bonus if you will…. Perhaps, deep down that’s what has always driven me, I just didn’t realise it …. I don’t have to force myself to train or exercise, I do it because I love it.

Which is why I stay fit. Which is why I train every day. So I can, if I want, when I want, where I want. A quick little prep will have me ready and I’ll enjoy returning to those feelings. But I most likely won’t go ‘all in’ like I used to, not because I can’t, but because I choose not to.

Now that all may change again at some point. What feels right now, may not be the same in another few years. We all go through seasons in life and I love embracing all of them.

And that’s what I also love about coaching each individual athlete I have. I have some athletes in the early stages of their athletic journeys, going all in, and I fully embrace that, support that and help foster the environment and training that they need.
I have other athletes who prefer a softer balance to their training, competing when they can, and training as it fits into their life. I have others who don’t compete – at all. They simply love the structure and discipline of training in their lives, and staying fit. Just as I do. And I have the pro and inspiring pros. The high achievers. Those chasing PB’s, wanting the most out of themselves, and I love being on the sidelines for all of that. I love being part of each of their journeys.

So no matter the athletes path, or where they are at in their journey. I love all of it, because it is THEIR journey. Just as I am on my own journey. And as a Coach, I love that I’ve been through all facets of it. I’ve been the beginner, the green and keen athlete, the top age grouper, I’ve dabbled as a pro, a mum juggling it all, and the one still here for the long haul.

And I am grateful to be part of that and still join in on the ride!

Coach Sarah x

Athlete in Profile: Jacqui Graham

A new comer to the sport of triathlon who is already making her mark. Podiuming in her first Ironman and qualifying for Nice 2024, she’s ready to embark on coaching to see how far she can take her racing. As a shift worker, she is also keen to continue to buck the trend of traditionally poor health outcomes for not just shift but also health care workers – so continues on her quest of participating in competitive sport and making good lifestyle choices. Keep an eye on this athletes. She truly is just getting started….

Name: Jacqui Graham

Nickname: Cracker Jacq – less frequently used these days!

Age / Age Group: 30-34

Lives: Yea, Vic

Targeted Sport: Triathlon

Years in the Sport: A very loose 1 year !

How did you get started: In 2022 a very good friend signed up for an Ironman as a bucket list tick off, prior to his first child. My wife and I decided we would do the 70.3 as support. I enjoyed the day with no real intention of doing another. However 6 months later I had forgotten that, then deciding to do a full IM in Dec 2023.
(and Jacqui conveniently left out the bit where she qualified for the IM World champs at said race!)

Why I choose CPC: I’ve not had previous coaching and I am super excited to work with someone who has the expertise to get the most out of myself. I’ve only heard of good things re CPC and the match just felt right.

What I ‘get’ from my sport: Sport/being active has always been a main priority for my wife and I. Being a shift worker, which is associated with poor health outcomes, I have always been determined to not let that stop me from participating in competitive sport or making good lifestyle choices. The exception to the rule hopefully. Or maybe the rule could change!

Ultimate Goal:  Ultimately, it would be to never stop getting better. However, Sub 10hr IM and sub 5hr 70.3 would be equally ace.

What I couldn’t live without: My wife & doggos + homemade hummus. 🙂

Biggest love: The above + exercise!

Pet peeve!: Dirty floors (two floofy dogs makes for a regular occurrence).

Interesting fact about me: I’m vegan. It would be un-stereotypical of a vegan if I didn’t mention it. ;-p

We can’t wait to see what is instore for Jacqui – as we know it’s going to be an exciting ride!

Athlete in Profile: Heath Lowry

Relatively new to the sport of triathlon, but not new to setting big goals! ‘Heater’ is preparing himself for the heat of Busso and tackling his first Ironman. But the journey hasn’t been without it’s challenges, including working on his mental health, keeping niggles at bay and doing the hard yards solo! But he has a story to tell – including one that involves the great Michael Schumacher ! . . .

Name: Heath Lowry

Nickname: heater

Age / Age Group: 35-39

Lives: Moama, Vic

Targeted Sport: Triathlon & AFL !

Years in the Sport: 2-3years in Triathlon

How did you get started: My uncle is in the sport and he encourages me to get involves, and the local triathlon club in Echuca/Moama has been great.

Why I choose CPC: Sarah was recommend to me many years ago, and now that I have a couple of big goals thought it would be smart to get the right coaching! A good decision, because now I don’t have to just be in my own head, I know what’s planned and I can bounce things off her – especially any doubts I may have along the way !

What I ‘get’ from my sport: In recent years I have struggled with my mental health and by getting outside training it has helped massively in this space. The benefits of it have been huge on my journey.

Ultimate Goal:  To complete the Busselton Ironman in December 2023!

What I couldn’t live without: My Coffee Machine

Biggest love: Vietnamese pho soup

Pet peeve!: Bad Manners!

Interesting fact about me: I once cooked a meal for Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari F1 Team. (I think we will all need more details on this Heath!!)

Finish Line Feels! Ironman Australia

“You only get to do your first Ironman once. So take your time down that finishing chute! Soak it all in. Look around. Find your loved ones. Embrace them. And draw in all that energy! That is the feeling you have been chasing all day. That is what you have trained so hard for. So don’t rush it. Remember it, savour it and enjoy it !”

Advice I gave first time Ironman Athlete Janelle Wolski ahead of her first Ironman at Ironman Australia last weekend…. And she heeded that advice with full gusto ! Her finish line video and pics are incredible and a memory she will savour forever !

When the dust settled after her race, she shared her experience with me, and by sharing with others, may just inspire someone else to take on a challenge that scares you, to step outside your comfort zone, to be brave, and to trust in the process…..

JANELLE:

Prior to the race: I was nervous off and on , all week prior. Why was I so nervous ? I asked myself…. I think I was scared I wouldn’t have the mental toughness if there was a situation in the race where I got overwhelmed at what was ahead of me and  I might just give up …….which isn’t like me but these thoughts kept creeping in . There is also the ‘mum guilt’ that pops up … if I fail at this , what a selfish waste of time all the training has been and the expense, the race, accommodation etc etc.. I know this is irrational for many reasons. The training plan fitted in with our lifestyle ( legend coach!), sometimes  I dropped the ball with things on the home front and at times I was distracted, but the kids knew what I was aiming for and well, that’s life sometimes. We can’t always have all our ducks in a row, and I know that that’s aok.

I suppose when nerves set in and thoughts of uncertainty about race day follow, the self sabotage sets in !!! What a ride it’s been and I hadn’t even started the race . I know tapering can make you cranky or feel off but I wasn’t expecting the nerves …………..I guess it also showed how much I really cared about achieving this goal …………

Race day ………3 hours sleep tops,  but I had a fantastic sleep the night before and a nap during Saturday and others have probably functioned during an ironman on less sleep.  I just kept thinking that no matter what , by this time tomorrow the day would have been played out and just relax girl …… I started to feel better on the walk to transition and Bryan (hubby) was a calming voice, ‘this is normal don’t worry, everyone is feeling the same‘. Thankfully it helped and I started to feel better …….. Transition done , I found some Maitland Tri Club girls that raced  their first IM last year and before I knew it we were walking to the swim start ( thanks to  Ange, the constant reminder that it is just a long training day) … as coach would say “hurry slowly.”

The swim was amazing , I forgot to hit go on my watch, oh well, I turned it on  at the weir. I liked the stop start of going over the weir, a chance to reset and site from above. The next time going back over the weir I got to put my swim cap on that came off , this has never happened  before but no dramas , I didn’t rush the swim and at no  time felt tired , I felt I was pacing right and because I stuffed up my watch I had no idea of my time when I got out of the water, I was in disbelief later to find out I did 1.13 … goal was 1 hour 20 mins and I expected to go over that …… I was wrapped!

Transition 10 minutes … I’m glad I didn’t go over 10 minutes , I’m totally fine with my transition time and the decision to wear bike knicks as I was comfortable the whole ride , I have no plans to do another ironman in the near future , but if I do, I would like to get use to long rides in a tri suit so as to not have to fluff about with the clothing changes. :-p

Off on the bike and realised I left my electrolyte / hydration tablets in my bike bag. Thankfully (again thanks Coach!) I had backup at personnel needs station. Crisis averted..

The ride going out was flat , I was doing 30  km p/h plus .. with hardly any pressure on pedals, was I going to hard?  I didn’t think so , so I kept on at that pace , the bike course was easier than the old course, everyone I have spoken too has disagreed though.. There were rolling hills but no steep spikes of hills like the first 15km of the old course ( which I knew was ahead of me ). At the 30 km mark I had that preempted thought of “shit  what have I got myself into“ but it was brief,  I didn’t let it fester and though and reminded myself that I’d done the work. Nutrition – I consumed my 3 hour plan of infinite nutrition in  2 hours and my hydration was gone in 1 hour …. I hadn’t factored in being so thirsty and hungry after the swim. The 44 km  mark came, personal  needs stop done, too easy, back we go .

Technically, there were steep long downhills that didn’t feel too steep when going up them . Going down the hills I didn’t pedal much , I got good speed , tucked in and let my legs rest while I held on tight. The tail wind going out was nice but the roads were bumpy and there were bottles strewn all over the place, many with flat tyres. It is proper country roads, so not many spectators. I liked the course ….. but …… it’s not appealing to do it again, I would prefer doing the old IM course because of the scenery, the out and back and the spectators.

Coming back into town and going out for 40 km I knew would be hard however the hills weren’t as bad as I remember when I did 70.3 a few years ago. I think my bike fitness made a huge difference. I had to keep concentrating at this time, the wind was brutal . More times than  I can count I got knocked around by cross winds. Going downhill was particularly nerve wracking. A lapse in concentration and it could have ended my day but I was not breaking in the downhills unless absolutely necessary because it was free speed!

Many times throughout the bike my mind would wander to “how on earth am I going to run after this bike“? Focus was key, I was chatting about my angst with the run leg to a kids sports psych at the boys soccer once and she said “when you are swimming, think about swimming !” “Don’t think about running when you are still swimming”, lol simple and affective, be in the moment.

I was now on the home stretch back in town, firstly ….…..block out all the people already on the run course and already finished, run my own race, it has gone perfectly so far. I nailed the nutrition , I kept it going throughout the ride and it was a good distraction making a few little adjustments that I thought I needed. The  wind was blowing straight up the Main Street of Port it felt like I was going nowhere it was sooooo strong. I did not want to lose control of my bike going down the Main Street of Port 😬 How embarrassing would that be!

Coming into transition and all of a sudden the bike was done! I gave myself a pat on the back – I was happy. I knew I had trained well and executed my race plan well when I was passing people in the last 30 km of the bike who are cooked.

Transition . There is a definite mental lift changing into run gear it felt good. Home stretch ! I have never thought finishing this Ironman was a given. There are so many variables that can be out of your control …mechanical or gut issues, sickness, random niggles that pop up… But so far so good !

Starting  the run I wasn’t yet convinced I would finish but it was definitely looking very likely. I started running to see how I felt. I have learnt after doing long hours of training that often I will feel worse at the start before feeling better. This was in my mind  to not panic if I set off and then felt crap ….. but that didn’t happen. I felt ok, no nausea , no low blood pressure feeling. Nutrition nailed. It was cold by now – and it suited me … not for others who ran in hoodies and gloves! I said to myself if I walk I will get colder and when the wind was behind me I’m not to walk. Some negative thoughts popped up in my mind when I saw someone else I knew out there racing and next thing I know………I am walking WTF !!! 

I thought to myself, “I’m feeling pretty good stop with the unhelpful thoughts !!!” There was an aid station not far from me. I walked to it, regrouped and decided to run … mostly … with blinkers on and sticking to the plan. Get to 21 km, aid station and big hill walk only. Off I went and stuck to it  pretty closely, I was happy ! The 3rd  lap I thought,  keep the plan going with 20% room for error 🙂 This lap was going to be the hardest, seeing others finishing, that point in the race when you aren’t on your last lap yet and it still feels a long way away…. So I had to block it out and my goal was to pass the last finish line for the last time for the last 5 or so kms , then I allowed myself to imagine finishing and think about the day and start to believe it would happen but not only that, it happened really well! I had NO idea at this stage what my time was, the last  2 laps I was feeling the pain. By the 4th lap I gave into the lure of more walks but was so proud of sticking to my plan as long as possible. I stuck to my nutrition which helped immensely I have no doubt !

A Tri friend met me with 200 metres to go and ran with me to near start of the carpet and said some really awesome things and said your time is fantastic and told me, I couldn’t believe my time, it was really such an amazing feeling! And the lights, the people the noise – simply incredible! I found hubby Bryan and son Liam and some other friends were there also, big hugs had all round! I always thought my legs would stop working at the finish line and I would be almost collapsing but I felt like I was running on a springboard.  I was soooo proud of my time, but most of all I was so proud of myself, of my achievement. An absolute bonus, I finished well under 15 hours 14.22  !

What an amazing day, so very lucky to have the opportunity, grateful to have made the start line fit and healthy. There had been a few circumstances that had me very close to pulling the pin on the training and my goal, but I kept training through and adjusted training when needed – thanks to coach – it made all the difference!

…. Mmmm and right now I just had a thought …… imagine if I didn’t have a 20 minute transition time or picked up the pace in the swim?  I could have got under 14 hours ? ………. and there it is …… so this is how it happens that somehow you end up registering for another Ironman 😂😂😂😂😂

Thank you SO much for sharing your experience Janelle. Such an incredible effort ! What a super star mum !

SET YOUR GOAL. DEFINE YOUR WHY. DETERMINE YOUR SUCCESS

This time of the year for many athletes is the perfect time for reviewing your past season, setting new goals, but most importantly defining what success is to you. Then building a framework to measure your success. In sport (well in life really!) the performance journey goes well beyond simple concepts of becoming faster, stronger, finishing or winning…  Results are important. However, a broader perspective provides a healthier and more productive framework to measure success over the long term. And that’s where an athletes WHY comes into it….

Most athletes start their goal setting process with a goal. It makes sense right? ! Set a goal, and lay out the stepping stones to help you achieve that goal…. 

But what if I got you to look at goals from a different perspective? What if I said, without a WHY your GOAL won’t be able to determine your success? What if I got you to first determine your WHY before you set your GOAL and in return then determine your SUCCESS? How do you think this would differ?

Here’s an example. An athlete set a goal of breaking 5hrs in their next Half Ironman. They loved the idea of going ‘sub 5’! Their previous best was 5:30hrs. They laid out the steps they thought they needed to get there, they trained hard, their family / training / life balance was a bit out of whack, they were managing a little niggle, but they had a goal so stuck to the plan….. Come race day they finished in 5:10hrs. 10min off their goal time. What feelings do you think they had? Disappointed in their result? Because they didn’t hit their goal time…. DESPITE still hitting a 20min PB! 

But what if that same athlete was asked the question – what is your WHY ? Why do you want to do a sub 5hr? Why do you train hard, and push yourself and why do you race? After some thought, the athlete wrote down a few things such as: to inspire my children to work hard, to not give up on a goal, to be a better version of myself at work and at home for my family. Their WHY was far more than simply hitting a 5hr time barrier. This doesn’t mean they couldn’t aim for both. Of course they could. But their WHY is what is deep, it gives purpose and means much more than a time on a clock…… That WHY is what should also help drive you – not the goal itself…. Read on >>

A WHY is a statement of purpose that describes why you do what you do and why you live the lifestyle you do. 
A GOAL is the object of ones ambition or effort; an aim or a desired result. 
SUCCESS is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. 

Success cannot thrive without a goal (aim) and a goal cannot thrive without a why (purpose). So when setting a goal, to determine your success of achieving your goal, you want to know the WHY behind it. 

Why do you want to achieve X?
Why do you push your body to train every day? 
Why do you do triathlon / cycling / running? 

“Your WHY is what will set you apart. It will help inspire you to take action. It will also drive you in your training and your racing.”

So as you sit and ponder your WHY, here are some action steps on helping you to determine your WHY: 

1. The first step is to ask yourself what your ultimate goal is. This could be related to your sport. Ie I want to complete an Ironman, or, I want to qualify for a World Championships, or I want to have a balance in life and training etc….

2. When you determine what this/ these are, the next and most important step is to ask yourself … WHY do I want to do / achieve this?

Now, there are some key things to remember when developing your WHY.

  1. Your WHY should be powerful: When setbacks or obstacles (such as an injury or a bad race) arise, use your WHY because it is powerful enough to overcome the setback/obstacle. 
  2. Your WHY should be deep: Having a shallow why can be easily broken. (ie I train because I enjoy it)  Instead, you should focus on a deeper meaning. (ie I train because it helps my mental health and makes me happier)
  3. Your WHY should be intrinsic: Don’t base your WHY on extrinsic factors (ie I want to do an Ironman because my best mate is) instead look inside and feel your WHY (I want to do an Ironman because I want to test my own physical capabilities)

Developing a WHY is the best way to ensure you are avoiding setbacks and continually making progress towards your goals. AND the best way to then measure your success – which I will touch on in my next instalment….

So I encourage you firstly to take some time to write down your GOALS AND YOUR WHY. Remember to make them powerful, deep, and intrinsic. And you need to write them down. Not just have them in your head. Find some paper and write (or type) it out and have it where you can see it. In your phone, beside your bed, on the fridge… Somewhere you can visit them regularly. And if your why truly means something to you, then you will find a way to make your goals happen and you will more likely lead to a happier success…..

Are you a self aware athlete?

I recently wrote an article on Recovery and how it can be the key to your success. I received lots of comments and feedback that it was very well timed, and a good reminder for all endurance athletes (well really any athlete!) to ensure they take a step back and allow the body to actually recover and adapt so it can grow and become stronger.

This lead me thinking to conversations I have had with a few athletes over the past couple of weeks and there seemed to be a common theme that was starting to pop up. A comment or conversation that had the same underlying thought pattern. “I feel like I didn’t quite nail the session“, “I didn’t hit the numbers on that session” some even included the word failed!

And so it got me thinking, what was leading these athletes to think this way? Because they didn’t hit a particular number in a session, that they had failed at that session… That even though the intent was there, and the effort was there, but because they didn’t hit a particular number that they had ‘failed’.

So when I delved deeper into these conversations, almost all of them came back to how flexible, adaptable and self aware an athlete was (or in these cases weren’t).

So what does does that all mean, and how can you become more flexible, adaptable and self aware to ultimately become a better athlete?

Well if you look up these words in the dictionary you will find something along these lines…

Adaptable: “able to adjust to new conditions
So being an adaptable person / athlete means “being capable of being adapted. able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions
Flexible: “able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances. ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.”
Self Aware:knowing and understanding yourself, surroundings, sensations and thoughts“.

How does that relate to you as an athlete? And how do these traits lead to either your success or your potential demise as an athlete?

Firstly I will put it into context to see if you are LACKING in these traits.

Scenario #1 You review your program at the start of the week, plan your week accordingly, down to the day and time you will complete your session. But something comes up, you are running overtime at work, an unforeseen issue comes up and you can’t get out the door when you had planned. You get a little angry, maybe start to take it out on others, or resent the person or situation that caused your plans to be changed.

Scenario #2 You head out for a key run interval session. You know what paces you can hold for this session as you have done it before. So you head out in good spirits. But right from the first step you feel heavy and lethargic. ‘I’ll get through the warm up and see’ but you still don’t feel it. And then you start to feel a little twinge in the hammy. You know your form is off, you know you are feeling tired, and the hammy isn’t happy, but ‘I have to do this session as planned’. So you push through it, unhappy with how you performed, and finished with a sore hammy as a result. You now feel frustrated and annoyed.

Scenario #3 You plug your bike session into zwift, a key session you really want to nail. Your computer tells you the power number you ‘need’ to hit, but you have had a stressful week at work, sleep has been below par and you are feeling tired. ‘But I’m going to nail this session no matter what’ you tell yourself. But you don’t. Your body wasn’t having any of it, but you keep trying. A zone 3 effort feeling like a Zone 4. You are working way harder for the effort you should be doing but you soldier on regardless… But you finish the session feeling worse than when you started AND you feel like you failed the session because you didn’t hit the numbers you planned.

Scenario #4 You just got the kids down for a nap, everything is set up and you are ready to hit a session on the bike. You are excited! But 20min into the session your youngest wakes up – gah noooo. You get angry at him. Why do you have to wake up now you curse to yourself. You try to ignore the cries, but know you have to get off. So you tend to him, get him back to sleep and jump back on the trainer. Only to have 10min later another interruption. Really?! Not again! arghhhh. You have a 1.5hour session planned and only 30min in and already you have been interrupted twice. You are annoyed and frustrated at your child. You get off and let the session go, but you remain angry for the rest of the day.

Scenario #5 You can’t swim due to pool restrictions (sounds familiar?) 😉 So you first get annoyed, but then you soon forget about swimming and just think you will worry about it when you can swim again. So you don’t plan anything else into your program that can supplement your swimming, you simply stop.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? You could replace any session or any scenario, or any disruption in the above and I’m sure you will bound to find one that you can relate to. The key message in these was that the athlete in each scenario didn’t allow flexibility or adaptability into their planning and/or sessions and let this carry through into the remainder of their day (maybe even more than one day!) either in life, in their session or in their program as a whole.

It can be hard I get it. Particularly for athletes that love structure, routine, following a program, not missing a session, ‘doing as the coach told me‘. These type of athletes are fantastic, they will always get the work done. They don’t search for excuses, or the easy way out, they grit their teeth and get the work done. BUT at the same time, this COULD be their undoing.

If things don’t go your way, you need enough self awareness to acknowledge this, but not let it get to you. If you are tired, become adaptable enough to change, if your time availability changes, have enough flexibility to work around it and not let it get to you.
THESE are key qualities that can really help an athlete achieve their full potential. Not just an athlete that can hit every session prescribed or every number planned.

So how can you draw from and develop tools for self awareness and self management from unexpected fatigue or unexpected situations?

Understand what successful training is: Being consistent is first and foremost. So to be consistent is not going too hard on easy sessions / days. It’s not taking on too much in terms of your training load in the context of your life as a whole. Sometimes training needs to take a little backseat and that is OK. We can plan around that. That isn’t failure. That is life! Sessions are designed to challenge you, but they aren’t designed to break you – physically OR mentally. Fatigue is ok. Yes. Some sessions should be really hard. Yes. But you should still feel accomplished overall.

Give a little: Don’t always go chasing a set power, pace or speed in your sessions without having the ability to shift these on a particular given day. If you don’t have that flexibility you WILL see it as a failure, even when it’s not. So don’t lose the ability to be intuitive, to know what it ‘feels’ like. What does zone 3 ‘feel’ like. What does Ironman pace ‘feel’ like. Data, watches and programs tend to take away the feel if you rely too heavily on them – listen and learn from your body. THAT is your greatest measurement.

Use your program as a guide: Your program is a guide. I program with intention, with purpose and with your goals in mind, but it is up to you as the athlete to listen to your body, train with intent, ask questions, adapt and be flexible within the realms of the program.
Not every day will be a great training day. Some days you head out for a hard interval session and your body just does not want to respond. This is the time you need to listen to your body and understand whether it is best to continue with the session, or change it. Athletes who tap into their intuition and understand their bodies will ultimately become better athletes as they manage a more consistent training base. Successful athlete’s don’t just train for the sake of training, every session has a purpose – even when that purpose may change for the greater good of the overall training plan.

Don’t feel like you have to hit EVERY session: I include a mixture of key sessions and supporting sessions into athletes programs so they know which sessions to focus on, and which session support those key sessions. If an athlete can complete them all AWESOME. But if in a given week they can’t, that is ok. Remember, we train and compete in our sport because we enjoy it. Our training shouldn’t control our lives. Our training should mould around and integrate into it, not the other way around. We are aiming for consistency over the long term, not short term.

Have scalability: I used to coach with really detailed metrics in training peaks, but I have now moved the other direction. Providing scalability within sessions based on how an athlete may be feeling. So without guessing, if an athlete had a key session planned, but they ended up running short on time, or they are feeling super fatigued due to late work nights, or a harder than planned session the day before, then they have prescribed scalability within their sessions. So if they can’t obtain X, then then can do Y, or even Z. So regardless if they completed the session as X or Z, they still completed the session with it’s purpose in tact and with adaptability around their life. Hows that hey!
So don’t feel like you have to hang on to a particular number or metric EVERY single session. Give a little when it’s needed.

Have the courage to recover: If you are feeling the accumulation of fatigue. GREAT that is from your hard work. Job well done! So in saying that, without any guilt or hesitation, step back and allow the recovery. Growth comes from when the body is allowed to recover and adapt. So don’t be afraid (or feel guilty) if you are feeling fatigued, to take it easier for a day, or two, or three! Really give your body a chance to absorb the training, trust me, you will come back fresher AND stronger.

Change your mindset: Learning to be adaptable really comes down to your mindset. The simpliest way to build adaptability is to practice in life as well as training. Become self-aware of your thoughts, and shifting them. For example. You miss an exit driving down the freeway and you feel angry at the situation. Instead, how can you look at this an opportunity? Maybe you can learn a new route to where you were getting to….
If you look at your program and you have a 1.5hour long run plan, but work / family only allows for 1 hour today, instead of being annoyed at your work / family situation think of it as you will be fresher for your session tomorrow! Literally anything you do on a daily is an opportunity to practice your adaptability. Give it a go! 🙂

ADAPTABILITY COMBINES FLEXIBILITY WITH VERSATILITY. FLEXIBILITY IS YOUR WILLINGNESS TO ADAPT. IT’S YOUR ATTITUDE. VERSATILITY IS YOUR ABILITY TO ADAPT. IT’S YOUR APTITUDE. ~Dr. Michael O’Connor

So there’s a challenge for you. How can you become more adaptable, flexible and more self aware? When things don’t go your way, what can you do with the new situation? Does it create new possibilities? Can it potentially be an opportunity? Can it actually lead you to be a more sustainable, robust, successful and ultimately happier athlete…. I’ll let you decide. 🙂