Friday, July 1, 2011

Lose One For The Gipper

So it's the middle of the calendar year, and for many North American triathletes, the middle of the competition season.  Winter base(ment) train(er rid)ing is a distant memory, and having more time free time to spend with family and friends around the Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, the New Year's champagne is nothing more than a mirage.

It's Nitty Gritty Time: the guts of the season, the bowels of a twelve-round training session.

It's right about now that motivation - the reason "why" - is wearing a little thin.  I tell my athletes that although I can provide thoughtful schedules and challenging workouts, I can't provide the motivation.  That spark has to come from within.  But there are ways to identify it, protect it, foster it, and remind yourself that the sacrifices you have chosen to make were not in vain.  So interspersed throughout the next couple weeks of normal posts and pictures (I finally bought new camera batteries after Brazil and the self-massage photo shoots!), I'm going to do a short series - I think four segments, although only time will tell - on motivation.  For lack of a better word for a big, unwieldy topic, although the segments will try to break that unwieldy idea apart.

Here's the first one: 

My lane-mates and I were having a philosophical discussion last Friday.  Or about as philosophical as one can be when panting for breath during rounds of "all out" intervals.  Through our gasps we communicated that our third rounds (out of four) had all gone much better than our current fourth round was shaping up.  We were working harder, in more pain, and going slower.  Great...

Then some wise philosopher in the back got out "maybe it's supposed to be this way."

I wish I could report that at this moment the ceiling opened, allowing a column of sunlight to ethereally strike this highly-chlorinated and under-oxygenated tableau as angels and harps struck up a chorus.  But no, we just started the next arm-wrenching interval.  However, I bet we did with a little more willingness to get slower and understanding of why the pain was worth it.  I know I did.

"Maybe it's supposed to be this way."

We get so tied up in hitting every workout out of the park - and I am guilty of this too - that we forget that sometimes failure is what makes us stronger.  Working 'til the muscles quiver, the nerves give out, the pace slows, and the mind wonders "why did I sign up for this suffer-fest?"

Some days, oh how that mantra runs on the treadmill of my mind.

The worse part - and this is how failing workouts ties in with motivation - is that they make you doubt.  They make you nervous.  They make you question your abilities, your dedication, and everything you have achieved thus far and want to achieve in the future.  Can I do it?  Will I ever be able to do it?  Will I ever be able to do it again?  Am I doing it right?

That type of thinking will sink you if you let it.  Unplug the mental treadmill!

If we sailed through every session, hitting times, wattages, and heart rates without ever having to really flex the physical and mental muscles, how would we ever know if we could go faster, harder, and longer?

Sometimes we have to move with all the swift pacing of a snail.  Not because we are doing a recovery session, but because failure helps us find our boundaries (a theme for a different segment) and work beyond our capabilities.  Because that third round shows us just how fast we can currently go and that fourth "failed" round tears apart the muscles a little more and makes sure that the next time we find ourselves in the third (or first or second or fourth) round we are going just a little bit faster.

Some workouts should make you "fail."  Because by making you fail, they make you succeed.

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