I was chatting to a friend today – over text, since texting, facetime, shouting across the street, and phoning are the only ways I communicate with my friends at this interesting juncture of social distancing and still needing each other – and we exchanged the usual things we all say right now: how are you making out? Are you working from home? Are you healthy? Are you doing ok?
And then he said “I miss coaching.”
Yup. I miss coaching too. My girls trail running group is on hold, and I had half a dozen coaching talks dropped from the schedule. I find public speaking to active people very motivating and it is a whole lot of fun to interact with an audience, and well, the hour I spend with my run group, in the forest running trails, climbing trees, playing games, and laughing, is simply priceless.
So, in the spirit of the positive energy of great coaches everywhere: we are missing you too. And here’s why:
Coaches coach because they love coaching others. I genuinely love to see people find success.
I coach because after two hours of talking very loudly, giving, supporting, encouraging, teaching and listening, I feel more energized and alive than before I started.
Your coach misses you, the athletes, because you make us raise our game: we have to be switched on emotionally and intellectually to be both empathic and objective, and coaching at its best, is about a very cool interplay of leadership and trust.
Coaching is a lot like training. We have to show up day after day, and there are times it’s routine, but there are also times when a session gels and for imperceptible reasons, it is just magic: some combination of group human energy and being 100% committed and the group is 100% committed to being there. In these moments, everything is in flow: people are mindful – they are smiling and laughing, or focussed with concentration on the task at hand, and we are witness to them becoming an improved version of their already perfect selves.
Coaches care and now they can’t check in and see you. We can talk to you, and skype you and write to you, but when you coach a group, you really start to care about all the people. You want to see them at the next practice, hear about their lives, listen to their week, and most of all, be there for them, supporting them in their athletic goals, in the way you said you would be.
We will all get through this!
Keep training alone, keep smiling, and keep thriving.
Training through interruptions, uncertainty, closures and other things that happen in life…oh, and how to train (happily) alone.
Runners, like many athletes and people, like routine and stability. They like to know when they are going to train, who is going to be there, what their heart rate is going to be, and what they are going to eat after their run. Training can often provide an illusion of certainty for people who live in a world that is uncertain by nature. We really never know what is around the corner, but we can control our workouts, our heart rate and our caloric intake.
Well, life happens, and every now and then the rug is pulled out from underneath our feet and we are left with 2 choices: get up and run as fast as we can to pretend it didn’t happen, which is denial, or we can allow ourselves to stay in the moment, as uncomfortable as it is, and then practice kindness to ourselves and others to come up with reasonable solutions.
We are in the thick of a pandemic, with COVID-19. The rug has been pulled out from under our feet; in fact it feels as if the whole foundation has been moved off kilter. This is frightening for some, and every day is changing. We can choose to be angry, or to deny what’s happening around us, or we can choose to be awake, and to act in the best possible way for the good of all.
The impact of this virus on the community created a cascade of effects for everybody. For active people, including runners, clinics have been cancelled, gyms, yoga studios, and pools have been closed. Not just restricted, but closed indefinitely.
All events are cancelled. Schools are closed, as are day cares, so people with young children are now dealing with working from home, and caring for children, and trying to care for themselves. For many people, training daily is part of their emotional well-being, and is a physical and emotional regulator, so at a personal level, I understand how challenging this can be.
Here are a few tips about how to train right now with some advice about time management, but also some suggestions on how you can train your brain to relax as well, and perhaps how taking a good look at your expectations will allow you to feel more grounded at this time.
When things go drastically sideways in our lives, I feel we have two options, we can turn to kindness, or we can turn to aggression. How do you want to work with this? You had a wonderful plan, you had it all worked out and now it’s all up in the air. Well, here’s the thing folks. This right now is the beautiful plan in this uncertain world. You can wish it was different (aggression) or you can work with it (kindness).
This includes, and starts with kindness or aggression to ourselves, by the way. When we choose kindness, we are essentially letting ourselves accept whatever has happened, that it is difficult, and we can handle it. We don’t make it more difficult by resisting it and wishing it would go away or making it someone else’s fault.
If you choose the first option, kindness, you have 2 choices with respect to your training:
Choice A: Move to Plan B. Be flexible, and come up with some solutions to continue training.
Choice B: Decide you are on a break (active recovery) for 2 weeks to buy yourself some time to grieve the loss of your well-oiled routine and adjust to change: you may train or you may not, but either way is OK.
If you take Choice B: Take Active Recovery
Run a little, or walk every day, for some fresh air. Switch to hiking and biking with your children if you can do little else. Join a free online yoga class, meditation practice or start one of the many online home fitness classes. Take your foot off the gas and glide for a while.
If you choose A: also known at Plan B, C or D:
Gather support by Communicating
Go social if this works for you. Create groups and accountability and online sharing. Get an online coach or an online fitness program.
Have kids? Train early
Get it in before the day starts; more than likely, everybody will still be sleeping when you return, so you haven’t missed anything and you’ve gained a Zen like start to your day.
Take advantage of free ME time when it comes your way
If you are a parent of young ones who relies on childminding or pre-schools for time to fit in your training, training will be a challenge right now, but if you suddenly find yourself with 30 minutes of free time, because someone is with the kids, that might be your window of opportunity for the day. Lace up the shoes and get out the door.
Be flexible and adventurous and have an attitude of curiosity
You might have to get up earlier, train at odd hours, or drop a training session. Chances are, if you are an active parent, you have already mastered the skills of “creative time management, training and childcare”: here’s the chance to test out what you have learned. Drop your expectations of the perfect training - just enjoy wherever you are and whatever you can do.
How to Train Alone
For many runners, especially the introverts of the world, training alone is already the norm, so running, becomes once again, the Easiest Fitness Activity on Earth. For those of you social types, already in withdrawal without your clinic or run group to motivate and keep you going, please know that this won’t be forever and there is only one way to train alone:
Just go train alone
You are doing your bit for the health of everybody by doing so. Running is messy. We sweat, we snot, we spit and we breathe A LOT. I personally would rather do all that alone right now. I wrote an article about training alone here.
You can fight it every step of the way and wish it wasn’t so, or you can simply go train alone. Who knows, maybe you will even enjoy the solitude after a few times. Set your schedule, just as if you have your gym, or your group, and stick to it. Get it done. Be proud of yourself.
I was having a discussion with my daughter (also a runner) recently, about runners and seriousness. We are a serious bunch, us runners. Serious about mileage, diet and racing plans and personal bests. If we can learn anything right now, maybe it will be to simply lighten up a bit, find some humour in ourselves for being human. Let ourselves relax and be kind to ourselves and others in these difficult circumstances.
Run For Joy
Fuel Your Soul
Note: I get a lot of my ideas for writing about running, from both my experiences as a runner and a coach, and from my life experience outside of running. I have gained a lot of insight into the way we habitually act and react to uncertainty, and create our own suffering, from the words of Buddhist teachers, Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. For me, their teaching just makes sense. I got the inspiration for this article after reading chapter 19 in Chodron’s popular book: “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. The Chapter is aptly called “Three Methods for Working with Chaos”, and starts with the quote:
The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, or our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to us or in us. These methods instruct us to move towards difficulties rather than backing away. We don’t get this encouragement very often.
No athlete – regardless of performance level - will fully excel without a strong sense of desire and inner self confidence in their ability. Your belief in your ability to compete well, to excel on a given course, or to simply pull off a series of good intervals in training will drive your success. One of the reasons that people get so much out of sport is that it builds confidence and knowing of their true power. It is also plastic: you have the ability to shape it. Even if you come to sport with a deficit of confidence, it can be built.
Even the most intense physical training will not sustain an athlete with no sense of their own ability and how well they deserve to do. It’s interesting, that a good coach, a good parent, a good teacher can be the first line of this teaching: they can often see this inner strength, when the athlete themselves is feeling doubt or anxiety, and their encouragement can be a key ingredient to building confidence. But even the coach has to eventually step aside and allow the athlete to know this for themselves.
The early season, and the hard sessions of the year are always a good time to practice tapping into your inner strength, to build confidence in your abilities and really remind yourself of what it means to know that you deserve to do well.
The concept or image of an inner Warrior is often used in sport. Your inner warrior works from a sense of peace, not fight. It works from a feeling of abundance not deprivation. It is expansive, not shrinking. The inner warrior is strong in and of itself and only ‘wants’ success, feels it deserves to succeed and is not driven by a ‘need’ to succeed and prove oneself. The inner warrior is independent of external approval. Understanding the difference between knowing you can succeed and needing to prove yourself to others is a huge step in building the sort of confidence in your ability that makes sport a joyful thing.
Your warrior wants to connect and belong, is full of courage and calm, as opposed to a sense of anxiety and impending doom that the ego wants to bring into the mix.
To increase your ability to tap into the strong sense of self confidence that will build into the sort of intense desire you will need during your season’s biggest challenges, you can think about several things in your training sessions and early season races:
Take stock honestly and don’t talk yourself out of success
Don’t let any nagging voices let you down. Too often our thoughts will lead to ‘untruths’: I can’t do it today, this pace is too fast, I can’t do it because –“enter your own self defeating excuse for a failure to perform here”. The brain is a marvelous tool; use it to reinforce what you know is true, not what may be false. Learn to tune into your thoughts early in the season and recognize when the thoughts are simply not helpful. What would your best coach say? When it comes from the power within you, and you really start to believe it, you are on your way.
Don’t peg yourself behind anybody or anything if you don’t really know
This is a continuation of knowing the truth and being honest. Often the difference between performances of similar abilities is that one athlete believed they should be in front, and one felt that it wasn’t possible. There will be times when you see yourself in front and you still lose in a sprint finish, but you will never know if you don’t believe you can. Tell yourself with conviction what you are capable of, and what you know you can achieve. Keep it simple, truthful and realistic.
Don’t lower your expectations in order to feel less nervous
It takes grit to tough it out in the arena. It takes courage to go after something new, and just beyond your reach, but it also makes us feel alive! To feel nervous, is to be excited, to be excited is to care about outcome.
The repetition of small acts of personal bravery and courage build resilience and self-esteem. Every time you show up to a training session even though you are a little scared, this is what builds confidence.
Run For Joy
Fuel Your Soul
Find something that makes your heart beat faster. It doesn’t have to be the great passion of your life, or anything grandiose, just something that starts a little fire in your soul. It doesn’t have to be running the NYC marathon; it can be completing a local road race, trying ballroom dancing, or taking a road trip to Tofino. For those of us used to lowering our expectations as life’s rough patches and responsibilities have taken over, this small spark of a fire reminds us of our true nature, that feeling we had as kids when we were in our element, and immersed in flow while playing. Do not wait for motivation to miraculously happen: take action and you will create your own motivation. From my own personal life experience at finding passion and setting goals and from coaching others for two decades, here are some things that I have discovered to be helpful in finding motivation and creating joy.
PUT IT IN YOUR HEART
Visualize the end goal, not the details just yet: the wonderful feeling of crossing the finish line, hugging your best friend after the race because you did it together, or the view of the vast Pacific ocean as you come over Pacific Rim Highway after Kennedy Lake. Really lean into how that feels and create an imprint of that raw delight in your heart. This is the engine of your dream and also the back up fuel tank.
MAKE A SPECIFIC GOAL AND SET A PLAN
Make a goal that is clearly stated, achievable, and measurable. Last year I wanted to take a strength training clinic. That was my goal. After years of running, learning how to be strong and getting strong got me excited. I also wanted to train with a coach at a gym, and with a class of people, as I do a lot of training alone. I found a class that worked for me at Victoria Hardstyle Kettlebell Club. I signed up. I had one class a week that I showed up for and I got coached and I followed through. Nothing sexy, but I did exactly what I intended to do. I enjoyed it immensely.
This is where training clinics are great for runners. You can set a goal of running or walking a 10K or a half marathon, and sign up for a running clinic. You will be given a clear break down of week by week training, a clinic night each week with leaders, companions and a plan, and clear measurable short term goals (training sessions) to get you to your overall goal.
HAVE A GOOD LADDER
This can be anything you do that helps you move upwards to your goals. Like climbing rungs on a ladder, this support continually moves you in a positive direction. It can be as simple as setting reminders and filling in your calendar so you have a visual of your steps and your plan. It can be getting the proper equipment, as it was for me in investing in several more kettlebells for my home gym so I could practice effectively between sessions. Maybe it’s getting the unconditional approval from a loved one or your kids, or taking a friend to the clinic so you are accountable to each other.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME ON "RNV Radio Negative Voice"
Don’t for one second believe in your own BS; the voice that says you can’t, or won’t or that you are too old, slow or not the right shape for whatever your dream is. Our built-in negativity bias can save us from getting hit by a car while crossing the road, but is completely useless when it comes to following up on a dream. There is no perfect. No perfect time to start anything, so ignore the inner critic and do it anyway. Recognize your thoughts as just thoughts and don’t believe everything you think.
EVERY STEP IS PROGRESS
Keep at your goal, by following your plan, and don’t second guess every step of the way (see step above again). One of the biggest hurdles for humans, seems to be expecting massive results each and every day to affirm that they are on the right path. Some days are simply, small steps. In fact, most days are simply, small steps, and it is in remaining calm day by day and doing your own best practice, focusing on the process not the performance that matters. I drew this process out for running training once.
KEEP TAPPING INTO THAT FEELING IN YOUR HEART - IT IS REAL
Keep reminding yourself of the heart feeling from step one. Why you are doing this and how satisfied you will feel at the end of this journey. Visualize this often. This is creating resilience that you will use over and over again.
BE GOOD TO YOURSELF
Find ways to celebrate each step of the way and acknowledge your progress. Let yourself be pleased for accomplishing a session, attending a class, checking off boxes for the week. Even to this day, after thousands of training sessions, I give myself a ‘pat on the back’ for completing as best as I could that day. There will always be what I call the ‘positive failures’. Not reaching a pace time, not lifting the weight in a deadlift, failing to complete reps in a set. The positive failures are part of the progress, and recovering physically and mentally from these are what makes you stronger. And for crying out loud, don't compare your goals, your journey and your life to what you see on social media.
Lucy Smith is a retired professional runner and triathlete, a coach and motivational speaker. She is the Lead Coach for the TC 10k run clinics in Victoria, British Columbia and will be writing weekly articles for the training leading up to the April 26th race.
A little personal story -
Last fall I set myself a goal of competing in a strength challenge called the StrongFirst Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC), which combines scores from a max deadlifts, repetitions of bodyweight pull ups and repetitions of a kettlebell snatch. I finished 4th amongst women over 50. My personal goal for the event was to complete 10 pull ups. I completed 9. Not to be defeated, I kept going after the event and 2 days before Christmas I completed 10 in my garage, with the cheering and support of my 14 year old son!
Common sense and a sense of humour.