I am not sure what it was about this past weekend, but for many of our athletes they had some workouts that were not easy, and I do not mean not easy in terms of the physical stress - although for some that was surely part of it, but I mean not easy in terms of how it felt relative to how they hoped that it should have felt or wanted it to feel. In addition, there was a healthy dose of technological issues thrown in and it was kind of a perfect storm for some less than stellar workouts - or at least if we only cared about the data.
We have all been there. We will be there again soon enough.
I often joke that if I had a formula for making each workout amazing that I would be a very wealthy woman, but alas that magic potion alludes me. Call it what you will - a front row seat aboard the struggle bus, but ALL athletes have bad days where they have every intention of putting in some solid work and for whatever reason - their body, or equipment has other intentions. This can sometimes be traced to lack of sleep, poor workout fueling, bad eating habits, too much stress, rushing around, or a heavy training load… but then there are just those days where is feels like the planets have aligned and it just all goes to hell.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when this happens - as it is not an IF, but a WHEN…
It happens to ALL athletes
Your attitude will affect how this experience affects you
These days can be a real opportunity for growth
Let’s start with an athlete’s perspective. We talk about this analogy all the time with our athletes and to be honest, I learned this concept from one of my past coaches, but the idea is that a coach has a map. The coach sees the athlete’s plan from an aerial view. There is a starting place and the finish line and many routes to get there. Of course there is a “fastest path of least resistance” but there are also other ways to get to the end. This aerial view allows the coach to guide the athlete to their A race even when the ideal route gets blocked. The athlete, however, is in the midst of the forest and can only see a few feet in front of them. They see just the trees and the trail. This path can look amazing at times and dark and scary and hopeless at other times and even worse it can diverge. This is where the un-coached athlete often trips up and either chooses the harder path, or spends way too much time thinking about which way to go.
This weekend, many of our athletes experienced a giant boulder just being tossed on the trail seemingly out of nowhere. All of them had a choice - or several really:
Sit down in the road, or worse yet turn back
Whine and complain, even get super angry and eventually some might get over the obstacle and others will stop in their tracks
Be momentarily annoyed, but embrace the new challenge and emerge stronger
I am proud to say that all of them picked choice three, but I also know that there are many out there who would not have done so and that three is the hardest choice to make, especially without a solid support system. Some would have thrown in the towel right away, some would have wasted a ton of energy on being angry or feeling sorry for themselves (stand on the sidelines of any race and you will see this happen far too often). Those who truly want to achieve their best know that this is just ONE workout of MANY and that the lessons that can be learned are perhaps far greater than what happens when the workout is perfect. While the athlete’s initial feelings might be of frustration, anger, or even failure, there is not much to gain from allowing those emotions to take over, but a ton to gain from knowing that on the days where you cannot hit the metrics prescribed, or you have wasted time dealing with getting your trainer to sync, or you forgot your stuff for the pool, you still get it done to the best of your ability. The athlete who sees these days as a challenge rather than a defeat will in the long run be able to draw from this on race day.
From a coach’s view - the athlete who is able to adjust on the fly and deal with the boulder in the way without letting it stop them is the athlete who is best equipped on race day. They are the athlete who will be able to handle the many things that come in endurance racing. I have never had a race without a wrench thrown in the plan, and while I might not be the most physically gifted athlete on the course, I am good at taking what the day gives me and making the most of it - in other words embracing the suck. “Bad” days are in a way a gift, they teach us things that perfect days never could, they test us, and when we rise to that challenge we emerge grittier and a better competitor. The next time you face a unexpected obstacle, look for the lesson that is presented and do not get bogged down by the data.