A few things I really like about sport...
Anybody who follows my blog, even if you have only ever read the title, knows that I am more about the process than the outcome. I am all about the effort, and very little about the gear. Not sure if it was my modest upbringing on the rugged east coast of Nova Scotia, where—twenty years before the invention of good trail shoes-- I used to have to layer plastic bags in my running shoes in the winter in order to keep my feet warm while jumping snowbanks, or simply the fact that to be a lifelong athlete, you have to—at some point—get over the ‘need’ to buy the latest gear or win every race and accept that the day to day journey is actually the point of it all.
Growing up in the age before internet, I have saddled the line between having no technology at all, and seeing such a glut of devices, questionable diets and tracking apps that I have been able to choose very carefully, what works for me personally, and what would seriously suck all the joy out of sport. To that end you won’t find me on Strava comparing times on my favourite routes, and I carry but one piece of technology at all times when I am training - a stopwatch, to track intervals and when to turn around for home. (OK I do carry a smartphone for emergencies, and while I have a distinct lack of technology on my bike, I do concede that power metres are an excellent tool for training if used correctly).
Sport was always very much an emotional process for me: I am used to digging deep, going beyond the necessary effort and finding my true grit inside. Proving every time I went out the door that I had 100% to give that day...that seems to have been my mantra for many years. I once wrote in my journal “Transcendent moments in sport seem to be effortless, yet without hours of diligent effort, they can’t happen.”
I wrote that after reading a quote by Ken Ravizza in Andrew Cooper’s book “Playing in the Zone”...”Transcendent moments in sport seem mystical and difficult to duplicate at will...you can only prepare the ground for it to happen. Enlightenment is an accident, but some activities make you accident prone.”
Read that again - it’s a beautiful sentence.
I am not against apps, tracking devices or technology, but I sometimes question whether they work against the beauty of sport and being active as something that’s intrinsically fun and that leads to these clear moments of flow and consciousness.
If that is the truth, then that’s probably why I still train and race. These small accidents of enlightenment keep on happening. And it’s not always an elegant process. Many times there are curveballs.
Recently I had go into this huge Rubbermaid bin I own, to haul out all my journals in order to find some fact verification about the 2001 World Duathlon Championships, in Rimini, Italy. This was a race that took place less than a week after the events of 9/11, and in fact I was in a jet, in the air over Italy and about to land in Bologna, when the twin towers were hit. The week’s events are a blur, not only because of the ensuing blanket of emotional grief and collective shock, but because of the jet lag and being up all night with an 18 month baby coupled with the concentrated nervousness of getting ready for a World Championships, the manifestation of which was now uncertain at best.
Needless to say some of the facts of the week are a little fuzzy in my mind, even the part where I showed up in transition the morning of the race and the official noticed a crack in my helmet and told me I had to find a new one or I could not participate... this happened one hour before the race was to start. I sort of remember running back to the little hotel, bursting into the breakfast room where the age groupers that had races the day before were relaxing over coffee and toast and standing at the front of the room and asking very loudly if anybody could lend me a helmet. I found one, it fit ok. I was allowed into transition. Not elegant, but I found a way to start. Do not remember much of that race as it suddenly didn’t seem to matter in light of recent events in NYC. All that mattered was that there was an agreement to keep on racing, in a show of hope and courage. And what I really remembered was that someone stood up instantly in that breakfast room, and helped me out. That week pretty much put sport in perspective for me, a knowing that has never left.
I actually haven’t found the journal of 2001 yet so I didn’t get to check these facts out, but it did get me to thinking about things I actually love, things that make my sport easier, better, more enjoyable. Concrete material objects. Yes, my journals are one thing, and I have quite a few.
In Pursuit of Excellence, by Terry Orlick.
I love this book, partly because Terry Orlick is a Canadian and a brilliant sport psychologist, and because it is so readable. This was the first sport psychology book I ever owned, and I am not sure where the original copy is because I loaned it out so many times. I have the new edition. I loved it as a young athlete: it really helped me organize and use my mental capabilities as an athlete to a great degree.
Of course, now that I have started there are a gazillion other things--material and emotional--that I love about running and riding. I am sure you have your own list. My road bike, coffee, muffins, chocolate, finishing a hard session, laughing with a training mate, getting muddy and wet, having a shower after getting all muddy and wet, and the smell of grass.
I love to eat well, but following a ‘diet’ would kill the joy of food and good nutrition.
I love to ride but comparing every single ride to a virtual population of riders would kill the joy of riding.
I would rather ride with another person and stop for coffee, than be in constant virtual competition with people I don’t even know.
I love training, but having to post a photo of every training session would be exhausting.
Training and learning through our own fears, barriers and self defeating habits is difficult enough just as it is, without adding the layers of technology, social media comparison and so called healthy diets, so my mantra is to keep it simple. There is comfort and discomfort, pain and joy and I try to find the middle ground.
I eat well, I try to get consistent sleep, I plan to train, I am mindful (always a work in progress), and I take care of my body and my bike because they both allow me to do what I love to do. I also enjoy the journey and am grateful for it.
I wish you all the best in your journeys in 2019!
Run For Joy
I am keeping this post simple. Training doesn't have to be complicated.
Start where you are. This is good enough.
Just so you know what I am talking about, I use the word ‘Train’ to mean both the process of 'doing' and the actual event - a time when you are going to exercise. Training can be anything you do that gets you moving (it can be jogging, walking, running, riding, a class); it can be highly specific but it can also be simply going for a 30 minute easy run. Training is both a process and a habit. I like the word training because it alludes to learning, refining, and improvement.
OK, so here we go!
The 3 Step Simple Training Plan (with BONUS step)
Step 1: Schedule your training.
Choose three 20-30 minute time slots for the week coming up. These have to be realistic. Do not put down times that you wish you could train, but times you actually 100% can train. Don’t be pencilling in 5:30AM when you know how much you hate getting up way too early and training in the cold and dark. This is supposed to be fun, not torture.
(cool fact: once your training has momentum, and you have set personal and meaningful goals, it may become realistic to make compromises you wouldn’t have previously considered, as priorities in life can be fluid, and our choices can change)
Ideally choose the training days to be separated by a day. If you are currently getting out there about 3 times a week, that’s awesome! Stick with that for now, and follow the time management tips here. If you have been random with training and haven’t been able to find more than one time a week to train, then try for 1-2 this next week. If you haven’t gotten out yet, that’s ok too, let’s start now. If 20 minutes seems like forever, then shoot for 10-15 for the first week. I can’t reinforce enough how the only training that works is the training that works for you.
Step 2: Choose where you are going to train. Are you leaving from your own home, driving to a park, or going to the gym (fitness classes, strength, stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical count as training). It’s very important that you know where you have to be at 7PM on Tuesday evening when it’s time to train.
Step 3: Train. Do it! Don’t even think about not doing it, don’t start asking yourself whether you want to do it. Don’t worry if you have the right clothes, shoes, body or nutrition. It’s happening. Go run, walk, or walk/run (2 minutes walk/2 min run) for 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes (if you have a plan already, then execute that; if it’s a class, then show up).
Bonus Step: the power of intent and self-talk and visualization. If you plan your training and where, you mentally start the wheels turning in your head, about the training happening. As those wheels start turning, make sure they are happy wheels! Your self-talk is ‘I get to train at 7PM!’ not ‘I am going to hate this’. Think and imagine how you will feel after you complete a session, or after you plan and complete a whole week!
There is an old saying: ‘Two Steps Forward, One Step Back’, which is a reference to the difficult nature of moving towards a goal. Sport provides many opportunities for arduous paths filled with setback as we climb towards goals. This lesson also plays out in the arena of life with many stumbles on the way to greater personal achievement and growth. The step back may be a mistake, but the mistake often unravels the solution to greater progress, so the net gain is still one step forward. I look at my best performances in racing and training as the times where I took a third step forward in very intense and uncomfortable situations
Racing provides many opportunities for personal success, particularly in helping create individual positive habits. Whether it's developing the ability to be resilient through tough days or creating moments of sheer fun, there is something powerful about turning hard effort into a season best or lifetime best performance.
Training well is about forward momentum: physically and emotionally being both focussed on what you can do well right now, while keeping your path in a straight line to your goal. Do that well and both the journey and the finish line become joyful events.
If you call yourself an athlete and are training towards any goal, you have already conquered the first of the two steps forward by showing commitment to your goal and by having the right attitude to continue to be motivated through weeks and months of training.
Having goals, a training plan and a time management schedule for putting it all together shows commitment. Showing up ready to train or race, being prepared and willing to work hard is about attitude. For some the attitude is pure joy and loving being outside training, and at the other end of the spectrum are those who are motivated by success and being great: often athletes are a subtle blend of each of these processes. There will be hard days and obstacles and you will take a step back - and that experience will create some kind of learning if you can see it.
Sometimes there is an opportunity to take a third daring step forward. It is taking the often daunting third step that provides true satisfaction. The first two steps forward - training and commitment - create opportunities: opportunities to move beyond our comfort zones and to do something truly great with our lives. A small window for success will appear before us one day and whether we jump through that window or not is what makes the difference. Do you take that small step forward at the unplanned moment? Do you embrace moving out of your comfort zone without a second thought, without the 'what if'? Taking the third step requires us to overcome a fear or a doubt about our ability to reach our goal. The third step is saying ‘Yes’ and not ‘No’, leaping at a challenge and not shutting down. Do this and the chances are that when the big opportunities present themselves, you will be ready and able to head into the unknown with all your power.
Run For Joy
Instead of letting the fear of the unknown run a frantic race through your brain, putting the brakes on your wild desire for excellence, you engage fearlessness. Most of us know these fears: the fear of goals unmet at the finish line, of not being good enough, of slowing down, the fatigue and cramps that take your breath away, and overtake your confidence.
you simply stepped aside and observed the fear without trying to compete with it. Fear takes a futile course, and one that takes us way off the mark. Instead – trust that you are as ready as you will be, right now. Trust your ability, your preparation and your strength. Make that perfect. Feel the sheer magnitude of the good fortune of being where you are: it is not about doing or getting anywhere. Be alive and bright and moving and learning. There will always be room for improvement, that is a given. Before you let fear shatter dreams that haven’t even been reached focus on this one wonderful moment. It is yours to own, and that excellence is present right now.
Lucy Smith, July 2018
Running found me, seeped into my bones one year and spread into my heart.