I grew up, for the vast majority of my youth, playing team sports. Always with a coach. And sometimes, with a very good coach.
Now that I’m pursuing an individual sport – and completely without a team or coaches – I appreciate even more fully what coaches brought to my sporting life.
In addition to the sports-specific knowledge coaches share through endless drills and diagramming, they also drive their athletes to peak physical fitness and performance. When you think you can’t go on, a coach will tell you that you can. When you feel like you can’t go any harder or faster, a coach will tell you not only that you can, but you must. One more set of lines. One more lap of the track or field. One more round of cone drills.
You can. You will. Now go again.
The encouragement, guidance and drive imparted upon me by many of my best coaches has stuck with me, and will often pop into my head at different points in time. Heck, this blog is named for one of those coaching tidbits.
A coach can’t create work ethic. Nor can they create dedication. But a good coach will spot these traits and foster them. A great coach will spot these traits and others and work to mold a better athlete.
So here I am, pursuing this solitary endurance sport, wishing I had a coach — and pondering, even, paying the big bucks to acquire one, even temporarily, to help me sort out the science of my sport, if not to also provide the emotional guidance.
At the same time, I am relishing the mental battle involved in being your own coach, your own motivator to do one more hill repeat, to push just a little bit harder on that next kilometre, to do one more set. Where I really need a coach though, is the reward of positive feedback.
Getting up early to do a tough workout on the weekend is powered by work ethic. Giving up hours of social time and forgoing many other hobbies is dedication. For the most part, and I do mean 99.5% of the time, I’m able to get myself in the saddle, out on the road, up the hill or around the track. The question is what I’m doing in my mind at any point.
To succeed, though, to flourish and excel in any sense, I need to give myself positive feedback.
Without a doubt, I’m at a point where I need to elevate my planning for training cycles. It’s getting harder and harder to nail the sweet spot of pushing myself hard without over-training. The last couple weeks have more than illustrated this point to me. I’ve gone well past my own understanding of how to periodize training, and how to push the envelope for distance and speed. I spent my winter training, trying to get faster, with nowhere near enough recovery cycles worked into the months of trainer and treadmill sessions. A little too late, I’ve come to realize that this is a problem. All my going faster in the winter hasn’t helped me go farther, or faster, this Spring.
You might think it would be an easy thing – train, rest, train again. The difficulty is in figuring out how much time, at what intensity, and how to balance it out with that rest and recovery cycles. Add in that I’m chronically insecure about my performance, and my capabilities, and you get a tendency to push too hard and recover too little – ironically, more detrimental to performance than anything.
The best description I’ve read of over-training is that it’s better called Under-Performance Syndrome. If I feel I am not ready to race (not enough miles in, pacing below my goals, etc), I fear under-performing. So I’m going to compensate by training more and training harder. It isn’t necessarily training smarter.
This, in turn, leads to actual under-performance — slower run times, less power on the bike, and a loss of focus — focus that’s required to succeed in any sport.
Fear of under-performance can be based on plain old insecurity as much as looking at the data from previous race times, current training, or accumulated mileage. There are plenty of places for me to go to find proof that I’m not ready to race this week, including the mirror. The ever-present “I’m an overweight, middle-aged wannabe” line of thinking puts a limiter on my confidence, and I have no doubt, acts as a speed limiter to my legs. And with a big race this weekend, the Guelph Lake I 5i50 duathlon, all of this is fully occupying my head.
The reality, of course, is that there’s always cause to panic. Whether it’s an injury, a tough few weeks of training due to competing priorities, or some kind of other interruption, there’s usually something that makes it worrisome before the starter’s horn sounds. At least I know that come this point in preparing for a race, there’s nothing more to be done in terms of physical training. I’ll go out for a mild “stay loose” workout later this week, but the last couple days of training have maxed my legs out and I need to give them a good rest.
Preparedness, with just four days to go, is about rest, nutrition, gear readiness and planning. Driving to and from work usually involves podcasts, but this week, it’s all upbeat, fast-paced pre-race music from my “Get Moving” playlist. I’m reminding myself of my race strategy (as unscientific and amateur as it may be). I’m making sure to get enough sleep, and eating even a bit healthier than usual. Lunch time is spent watching inspirational endurance and multi-sport videos on YouTube. And I’m enjoying, as usual, that pre-race sweet spot — even though it’s doubt-laden.
Always, the lingering doubts.
Of all the aspects of the race occupying my brain right now, it’s the 10km final run that worries me. I really don’t feel I’ve got my base miles down, but more so, I’m dreading the course. It’s a meandering, boring and hot traipse through the Guelph Lake Conservation Area campgrounds and back roads, with little shade and even less distractions. The first run is short enough that it doesn’t stress me out the same way. And although 40km at full speed on the bike is difficult, it’s on familiar roads that I’ve trained on many many times in all kinds of conditions, and let’s face it, I enjoy hammering down on the bike.
Since the long run in any race is already my mental weak point, never mind on one of my least favourite run courses, I’m working this week to not only boost my confidence in my physical preparedness, but to re-position my thinking and prepare for those low moments mid-course when I need to re-focus and be positive.
All those years of being coached, even if it was mostly in team sports, need to guide me now. There may not be a coach over my shoulder, yelling from the sidelines, or giving a pep talk in a strategically called timeout, but the spirit remains true.
Cue the inner coach: You’re trained. Your body knows what to do. Now let your legs prove it to you.
When, after 1.5km, I’m feeling like another 8.5 is going to be impossible; at 5km, when my left foot starts throbbing; or at 6.5km, when the heat is so oppressive it feels like I’m running in an oven set on bake; when, at the 8km marker, I’m debating how fast I can possibly go to make it to the finish without keeling over; and at the bittersweet 9km marker, trying to compel an exhausted body to push harder to make the finish with nothing in reserve; at all these times, I need to have that inner coach, the self-coach, ready with positive, encouraging coach’isms.
Now go, feet. Go.