As a coach who often puts the emphasis on practice and process, I still get curious about our need to set big goals, and the sense of satisfaction that arises from the grit and hard work of accomplishment. Author, Stephen Handle writes, “One often overlooked need we share is a “need for achievement” – this is our desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, or achievement of high expectations. We don’t have to be good at everything to be happy, but we usually like to be good at something. We all crave a type of passion, skill, or talent that we can excel at and rise above the norm. It helps us define ourselves as individuals. A healthy need for achievement isn’t about becoming better than others, it’s about becoming better than your previous self. It’s about identifying a goal you want to reach in life and being willing to put in the necessary steps to make it happen”.
Any of you who are currently training for something, will identify with this.
Creating and experiencing a flow or a peak performance (an achievement) is one of the greatest joys of being an athlete and is one of the most satisfying aspects of my coaching. Observing someone succeed is pretty much a manifestation of what’s awesome about sport.
While time management and training is primarily about carving out time, choosing to train, and setting a schedule, time management is also about seeing possibility and not getting railroaded by your own barriers to success and achievement.
Here are 5 of the most common barriers to time management and achievement and how to identify and overcome them:
1. Lack of motivation to train
An inability to get training done leads to low morale, and lack of momentum in training habits and an inability to get stronger. Some people have no trouble getting out the door, while others do. If you are the latter, the best is to keep your mind out of it (“Do I want to train right now” is not a good question for you), and just set up a schedule and stick to it. Schedules create habit and good habits create positive momentum.
There are 5 key things that will help you:
1. Plan when the workout is going to happen---preferably on a weekly, not daily basis—plug them into calendars on Sunday.
2. Organize your equipment so you are always prepared
3. Eat and sleep to support your training.
4. Decide how you are going to talk to yourself in training before you start. Decide to delete the negativity. You don’t even have to be overly positive. Be OK with neutral.
5. Celebrate your recovery day because you have worked so hard and deserve it.
Watch for ways you may repeatedly talk yourself out of doing well. Also called negative self-talk, this is going to the negative as a default and an inability to appreciate the good things that can happen in training. Sometimes the negative happens - we make a mistake that’s correctable, or something out of our control negatively affects and outcome in training. In this case, recognizing the negative is important, and accepting and using the experience to become better is a good thing. Moving on quickly is important. However, only looking for the negative, or talking and reflecting on training in absolutes and generalized statements may not be helpful.
‘It was a terrible workout, the worst ever. What a tough pill to swallow and I am wondering if it was my new shoes, the jacket I was wearing, maybe the food I had for lunch, and if I am really just not that good at this.’
If this is a consistent way of talking to yourself, it means that you may just have trouble being good to yourself and it’s a habit to look for everything that went wrong, instead of what may have gone right and what you can improve on to expect success in the future. If you have this habit, you may want to talk in ‘fact’ not ‘feeling’. You can ask yourself: what went well and what didn’t go so well. No judgement, just acceptance and intention. While learning from experience is always a good thing, being able to take away and appreciate that good things happen every time you go out and train is a valuable exercise in self-esteem and intrinsic joy. I often ask people to find one thing to pat themselves on the back for in every race and training session. I don’t mean getting carried away with big HIGH Fives and celebrations - keep it humble and appreciate your small efforts that worked out.
3. Nervousness and Anxiety
Nervousness and anxiety causes muscle tension which is not the optimal state for athlete performance. Being able to perform relaxed is the biggest challenge for most athletes. Being relaxed and calm emotionally can have a huge impact on how your body reacts to intensity. The self perpetuating spiral of (confidence + self-belief + being relaxed) = success is one of upward movement.
Worry can be debilitating, anxiety can stun us, so it’s best to recognize worry early, not ignore. Worriers can be highly creative and imaginative people, and if asked about their worries, will often talk about things in the future that are either highly unlikely to happen or outside of their control. Or they allow other things to displace the worry and derail the race, such as not going to the race because the weather is bad.
Sport Performance worry can be tamed by recognition, relaxation, and visualization.
Name that thought: there is that worry feeling again. Notice and don’t judge. Then ask yourself a question: can I take action to help me? If you are worried about having enough calories before your training night, this requires one action: make sure you have calories. If it’s not something you can take action with (it might snow), you don’t have to analyze it. Worried about performance? Start with the facts, not expectations: only you know how well prepared you are physically and what you are realistically capable of. Once you know what’s reasonable to expect, use a visualization technique to see yourself performing this task well. Expectations that aren’t realistic can breed worry and future disappointment. You can sidestep this stress by performing reality checks on your expectations.
Relax and breathe and focus: breathe deeply. Breathe the worry out and away.Worry and anxiety is best helped by recognition, and then focusing on process, process, process. Things you can control: breathing, arm swing, footstrike, relaxation
Visualize: How do you see your happiest most prepared self? How do you want to feel. Use you imagination to your benefit: imagine the best case scenario.
4. Dealing with Distractions
We have all watched great athletic moments and achievements and seen the look of total concentration and flow on the face of the athlete. They look determined but also unflappable. They know that when something is not relevant to the outcome of the race, they will not give it energy. Through careful training, they have learned to ignore distractions. For example, for years, I have run at our well loved trail Elk and Beaver Lake in Victoria. This is a multi use trail and I expect to see other walkers, runners, dogs, bikes, and horses. I expect that some of these other users may cause me to veer, swerve, slow down, stop, or otherwise shift my momentum, however, I allow none of these distractions to shift my focus. Instead, I purposely practice keeping focus, while staying safe, and not allowing judging thoughts to arise, especially if I am performing some training with intensity.
Distraction control starts in training, by identifying when you are habitually getting distracted and then teaching yourself a new habit - techniques to re-focus. It starts with awareness, then quickly learning to identify the distraction without judgement, then, just as quickly, to re-focus on your process.
There is no greater personal power, than to not allow others to disrupt our flow. In that regard, distraction control is also a powerful choice:
Say you get cut off by a dog and have to break stride. You have a split second to make a choice to either get mad, upset and emotional, or move on and refocus. Anger in that moment will not help, will cause tension and tension is detrimental to peak performance. Your choice.
5. Non-productive emotions
Anger, fear, worry, boredom, frustration are not productive in the training and racing environment. The most consistently successful athletes have a refined and specific focussed emotional mindset that works over and over for them. They bring it to practice again and again and they race in this same mindset, leaving non-productive emotions for another time. I am not saying to minimize your feelings, however, in the athletic arena, you may want to focus on a specific mind set that works for you.
A final note on fear. I believe that the path to any achievement is necessarily going to include some fear. New territory is a bit scary. However, heading straight into what we find uncomfortable and finding it not so scary after all - but invigorating - is an amazing learning. The repetition of being brave, small acts of personal bravery and courage build resilience and self-esteem. Every time you show up to practice even though you are a little scared, this is what builds character. You recognize that working through personal fear and finding space for it, alongside building skills and confidence: this is the true beauty of sport. It all comes down to choosing the path with ‘heart’. If your heart is in it, there is no failure, only experience.
Run For Joy
Lucy Smith March 2019
As a coach, I love to support and learn from observing how other people have their own experience in sport, while giving them the foundational skills to find that experience and the opportunity to touch on their potential. It’s the same kind of philosophy I have in parenting.
For instance, when my children wanted to climb trees, I sometimes helped them find trees that were within their ability and size (I would find trees that had lots of good branches and branches low enough for them to get up on their own.) I would ensure they had the right footwear to climb trees, then give them some skills – staying close to the trunk, making sure you can have 3 points touching at all times, test your footing – and then I would let them have their own experience climbing the tree. I tried very hard not to colour their experience with my own fears (of them falling), or how high they should go. Most children, when given the chance to take reasonable risks, have a good sense of their own limitations and the only way for them to learn is to learn free of judgement.
In running and most of sport, the moments of truth come when we ask ourselves to go faster, longer, acquire a new skill and move out of comfort. I can’t make anyone do any of these things. I can provide the knowledge around skills and can choose the environment that supports them, and then I stand and watch the magic happen.
If you are ready to take on the challenge of going a little faster this season, here is a primer on executing a great training session.
Get excited! This means that you come to the session ready to give best effort and having made the decision to have a good day. You are not coming to ‘wait and see what happens’. As a coach, I call this ‘training like you mean it’. It means arriving early, prepared, with positive energy, standing tall and being in an engaged frame of mind.
Warm up well
Do 10-15 minutes of light warm up running or walking. After the warm up do some dynamic stretching such as leg swings and arm circles, and stretch out body areas that feel tight. Before the intervals, do a set of run drills and strides. Drills and strides activate the muscle fibres fully for training and create mental preparedness. Strides are 10 seconds of fast dynamic running or walking, at the pace you will hit in the intervals but not your all out speed. You should be able to be relaxed and hold perfect form for the stride. Walk or jog for 30 seconds between stride efforts.
Attempt to pace the whole workout evenly; that means maintaining the same speed throughout the intervals and being mindful of energy to be able to complete the whole set. Your effort will need to increase and you should have to focus with concentration as the set goes on: this is to be expected. Begin each interval with a burst of dynamic running or walking, pumping arms and legs to get up to pace, but not sprinting. After a few seconds relax into pace and check that you are breathing well and staying relaxed in the upper body. Allow your mind to focus only on moving well. Be aware of your goal effort and tune into this pace. You can keep this as a sense of internal or perceived effort, and/or use a device that will show heart rate, speed and distance covered. Over time you will learn more about your own effort and pace.
Once you have gained expertise in pacing and effort, commit to the pace and discomfort of the interval, not relenting at the first sign of fatigue. This sense of discipline to ‘hold strong through discomfort’ is best honed in practice and creates emotional fortitude for the stress of race day. The more you practice this, the better you get.
Learn where the half way section of every interval is and focus on that second half, maintaining rhythm and attention to the body. As you fatigue, put emphasis on your biomechanics, keeping tall posture, being graceful, relaxed in shoulders, face and torso. Think intently about forward momentum and doing a good job.
Finish it off
Be strong right through the finish of every interval, resisting the urge to give up even a second early. This is another example of small ways you can be constantly mentally tweaking your game. Keep moving. Shake out the arms, exhale deeply, walk or jog lightly for 10-15 seconds to facilitate lactic acid dispersal. Walk and jog between intervals. Keeping the legs moving helps your blood move through the body for the recovery and prepares you for the next interval. Resist the urge to rush impatiently into the next interval.
Sports Psych 101
Mentally prepare for the next interval by letting go of the one you just did and only focussing on breathing, relaxing and the one coming up. Notice if you have thoughts or habits of negative self-talk (`That was not fast enough`), or a ‘fail to succeed’ (`I can’t hold this pace for the set`) mentality very common in athletes.
During my career as a high performance athlete I must have repeated “C’mon Lucy, be tough!” about a million times to myself. It never got old.
Focus on one goal at a time
As you approach the next interval, decide to do the next one well, at least as good as the one you just did, and even find a way to make it better. Find one goal for each interval.
Right before the start of the interval, shake out your legs and arms, take several deep breaths and focus your mind. Practice taking a quiet mind into each interval.
If you can achieve this, you will have fleeting moments of being in the ‘zone’, a space where direct judging thoughts cease and your concentration is like a light beam only on the act of moving.
At the end of a set of high effort work, jog and walk for another 5 minutes, take some water if needed, and then do a very gentle and easy jog for at least 10 minutes. Stretch now or make time to stretch later, as this may greatly reduce your chance of injury.
Using these guidelines, come up with your own smooth successful training routine. Soon your speedy sessions will translate into superior fitness, mental fortitude and great races.
Training with integrity: the opportunity to practice mindfulness, create better health for ourselves, be compassionate to others, and reach a little higher in our lives.
Run For Joy!
Lucy Smith, March 2019
Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
Great results are wonderful. Especially if we have worked hard for something. There is something so satisfying about gritting it out, building something from the ground up, pulling off a good performance, whether it’s in sport or some other area of our life.
Do we do something because we want to work hard? Do we follow a path because we desire a great result? Do we only work really hard at the things that we have passion for? Do we build what we are good at? What comes first, the motivation to succeed, or the outcomes that motivate us to keep trying?
I’ll put this in the context of a race goal. Using the wise words of Thomas Merton, if you only focus on the outcome (whatever result you are hoping to achieve) you may work really hard and be sorely disappointed in a poor showing. This will cause you to be blind to all the cool moments that happen along the way. Or you may have a positive result but then look at your medal and wonder if it really matters, in the large scheme of things. Or want a bigger medal.
As I started my path along a high performance career I had one thing that I craved more than anything. I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wanted to call myself an Olympian and become an Ambassador in Canadian Sport. I dreamed about going to the Olympics and racing for Canada, and I set all my early goals with that end in mind: national Championships, qualifying events, time standards, 12 training sessions, 2 physio, and 1 massage appointment a week.
I changed my habits to support this dream. My life became a 24/7 cycle of eating, training, sleeping, travelling and racing. The more I changed my habits to support my goal, the closer I could see that I was getting. I gave up a lot of things that other 22 year olds were doing, but it didn’t feel like sacrifice. I climbed the rankings, my times got better, I developed my fitness and I worked on my mental skills. It was hard: I had injuries and setbacks, money was tight, I wondered what the hell I was doing at times, but I never stopped because something in me needed to pursue this goal, and I was making enough progress to reward all the hard work.
I tried for Atlanta 1996, in the 5000m and failed, but I kept trying. In 2000, I failed again (well, I was pregnant and had a baby, so that doesn’t really count as a failure unless you want to count failure to plan), and finally for Athens 2004 I failed to make the Olympics for the final time. Interestingly, by the time 2004 came around, I had learned so much, had broadened my career, to include road running and duathlon and triathlon and I was so in love with the process of training, with being an athlete and with trying to be the best and fastest I could be, that while not making the Olympics was a disappointment, I had gained so much more about the truth of hard work and being an athlete, that it didn’t crush me.
In the end, it was all about the desire to strive for excellence. Where I was, at the height of my career, excellence was both what I was doing and the result. There were many races, where it was possible to win, where I believed I could win: and in those races, I wanted to win. My friends said they would see competitiveness written on my face. However, my motivation wasn’t ever to be better than anyone else. I just wanted to be the best that I could be and winning a race seemed like the logical thing to strive for. The only thing to strive for. But in that striving was a very clear intention. I wanted to see what I was capable of. I wanted to see how fast I could get, how tough I could be, how much I could suffer, and how well I could execute a race.
As I matured and started coaching, I wanted to pass this knowledge on and mentor younger athletes, help them past the obstacles I had already run into. And then I started to see inspiration all around me - could see that this was true for all athletes and why people keep signing up over and over again for competitions.
Goals are important, and I’ve always coached people to choose their goals carefully. But goals won’t motivate us, if our intentions don’t support our soul. I also think it’s really hard for anybody to feel inspired, be motivated or take action if the goal is chosen for the wrong reason.
When our intention is to train with respect and care for ourselves, to support the others around us and see how far we can go, we are carving a positive pathway for ourselves. If our motivation is rooted in needing to prove ourselves worthy, or to dominate, then fear and negative patterns become our training partners.
If you are one of the many thousands of people who choose to set a goal for yourself – whether it is to start walking, complete your first 5k or challenge Ironman Triathlon – don’t except inspiration every day, or to be massively motivated for every training session. Inspiration and motivation ebb and flow, and when they come it is beautiful, and like a sign post, they show us we are on the right path. What will keep you going, is having the right intention (and this is wildly personal), and most of all, developing good habits that support exactly what you intend to do.
Eat well, sleep well, take care of logistics and be kind to yourself.
Run For Joy
Over the course of my career, there were many times when I didn’t have a coach next to me, giving me cues, or keeping me on track. Endurance athletes seem to have an independent nature yet they still need to develop good decision making skills. I had to learn to train well on my own and I learned like a lot of people, through failure. Once I had failed though, I was pretty determined not to repeat the failure. I learned about training too hard on my easy days in the hardest way possible. I was at the World Student Games in Sheffield, England, and I was a young, enthusiastic runner, excited to be alongside my idols and role models. I was so wrapped up in the experience of the event, my first really big multisport games, that I tagged along for a training run with some of the more experienced members of the Canadian Team. So happy to be just running with the elite, the best of the best, I pretty much hammered to keep up during a 10 mile run at slightly faster than 6 min/mile pace. This run ended up being a strong tempo run, (probably a 4.5 out of 5 on the effort scale at the end of the run) and, being 2 days out of my 10 000m track event, left me with nothing on race day. I will never forget the disappointment of running that championship race on demolished legs. After 6 laps, it was a struggle, and suffering through each of the remaining interminable 19 laps taught me 25 times over to never again throw away a race during training.
The ability to be paying attention to what is happening right now, fully accepting of it, appreciating it, and not wishing for anything more, or for it to be different. Particularly, to not be distracted by ‘thinking’ - by music, your outside environment, or your unhelpful thoughts.
I believe it is really important for people to develop this skill of mindfulness in training for several reasons. Mindfulness brings your attention to what is happening with your body in the moment. When you are mindful, you are more likely to be relaxed and without tension, and this will improve your body’s ability to move effectively. When you are paying attention, you will notice when something isn’t quite right - like a small ache or pain - and you can stop and stretch, slow down or stop before it becomes an injury. When you are mindful you aren’t distracted my multitasking, and this is both powerfully beneficial to your mental health and helps increase your intrinsic enjoyment for training. If you are mindful you don’t ignore a pain that will become an injury.
There is another quality to mindfulness, though, as it pertains to your goals, and priorities. I could argue that during my 10 mile run through the countryside outside Sheffield, in the lead up to the Student Games 10 000, I was entirely mindful. I was so mindful of my effort and my love of running that I totally forgot about my goal of running the track race in 2 evenings hence. If I had been truly mindful about what was needed of myself, as my own best coach to prepare optimally for the event, for which I had travelled across the globe, then I would have been able to run in a relaxed easy manner, for a shorter duration, and been ready.
I feel there is a helpful correlation to mindfulness and learning to train by perceived effort. This is beneficial for beginners to aerobic exercise as it will teach you to listen to your body - and it is simple and gadget free. At first, even a slight increase in pace will feel hard and uncomfortable, but over time you will find that your body is adapting to lactate accumulation and you can go comfortably for longer. The other benefit to training by perceived effort, and not heart rate, is that your body is not a robot. Sleep, stress, coffee, and other environmental factors can affect your heart rate, causing confusion and sometimes stress in athletes trying to attain unreasonable rates of work based on what they think they should do (that is, based on a quantitative system of improvement for the sole sake of compiling data). “I ran this loop at x pace last week so I need to run it at x pace this week, or I did x miles last week and I want to do x miles +n - no matter what). Learning your own effort levels in the absence of a coach is a solid start to training and staying healthy.
As Olympic marathoner Lorraine Moller puts it in her wonderful article about self-coaching called “Becoming a Body Whisperer, “All champion runners can tune in to their bodies' signals to such a high degree that they have the ability to optimally divvy out their effort over the distance required using precise split-second decisions. They don't have the time or mind-space during a race to check their monitor data, make a cell phone call to their coach and wait for him to call back with instructions on whether to increase or decrease their pace after downloading it into a computer. Nor would they want such a clumsy system when their inner technology is so much more sophisticated, speedy and accurate. Although such a scenario is laughable, many runners proceed as if this were the case and fall apart when the race requires them to be self-reliant. By contrast, every champion athlete, almost without exception, is an expert body whisperer whose trust in their internal abilities of gauging effort, pacing and timing is unwavering”.
Spend some time training by feel alone
Training without a watch, or any technology will help you tune into your effort, and help you learn to trust your instincts about pace. Train on your own, without a watch, without HR monitors, music or any gizmos. Choose a route you know will take you roughly the amount of time you need for one of your aerobic easy training days. It doesn’t have to be exactly the 20 or 30 minutes, but close, within 5 minutes. If you don’t feel comfortable training without a watch, because you are new to the sport and do not know your routes, you can wait and do this session when you have some data for the routes that you do often - like in your neighbourhood or around a park. Another option is to do smaller loops - time yourself for one loop. Now you know how long it takes, roughly, to do this loop. Now go do the loop again as many times as you think you need in order to hit the prescribed training time. Or simply go out and back. Wear a watch on the way out, then take off the watch and train by feel and effort for the way home.
Aerobic development is important, but not to the point where you injure yourself.
To walk or run long distances, the development of the cardiovascular system through aerobic endurance sessions is necessary, but also unique to individuals. I learned early in my career, that my heart and desire were far greater and stronger than my muscular skeletal system. While some of my peers were running 150 km/week, I rarely could hold greater than 80 before I broke down or got sick. This limited my ability to be a great marathoner and I stuck with half marathon, 10k, and 5k, and eventually added triathlon to my career - using bike mileage to boost my cardiovascular system. Some athletes can work their way up systematically and gradually and logically into high mileage, some people will always break down after a critical point of volume. Learn to avoid volume for the sake of volume, (which I believe is governed by the law of diminishing returns for anyone not training as a full time athlete, or over the age of 45). Avoid overtraining through too high volume by listening to your body not your training log. Aches and pains that persist 24/7, fatigue, constant injuries to your knees, ankles and hips, and a general feeling (called intuition or gut feeling) that you are not making gains by training so much, means you need to limit your volume, or at least find a way to satisfy your aerobic needs by cross training. Long trail running hikes (where your pace is really easy, and interspersed with walking), hiking hills in the off season and pre-season in order to build aerobic capacity and lower limb strength and resiliency (Mt Doug, Mt Finlayson, Caleb Pike etc), and cycling will all give you the aerobic benefit you need, plus the strength required for fitness walking and running.
Don’t Be a Sheep
One of the greatest challenges to group training environments, is what I call the ‘highest common denominator effect”, where the pace of the group is dictated by the fastest participants. Been there, done that a thousand times. I have warmed up too fast, done long runs way too fast, cooled down too fast and gone out too hard over and over and over again. As a coach, I either encourage everybody to warm up at the slowest pace possible to keep the group together or in the case of particularly persistent ‘fasties’ I let the ‘fasties’ get ahead and learn for themselves that leaving their best training in the warm up isn’t the optimal way to get stronger. I’m know for saying at the beginning of warm up: “No one goes ahead of Coach Lucy”
Good training habits have wonderful application to real life. Really listening to yourself is a huge confidence building skill. Knowing how to tune into your body, and just appreciate its movement and strength, and let the distracting thoughts go is a positive mindset in a world full of comparison and distractions. Learning when to back off without judgement from a too fast pace, a too energetic training partner or a too long long run, is one of the best skills and gifts you can absorb. For one, it is refreshingly free of ego, to be mindful and train at a pace that is right for you, instead of clinging to the idea that you have to ‘keep up’ to count. It reduces anxiety (will be keep up; will I be able to complete this?) and it frees you up for listening to your own body and perceived effort.
And finally, here are my Top 3 suggestions to being your own best coach:
1. Commit to getting good sleep; many studies have shown than consistent sleep and bed time routines enhance healthy bodies and ability to train. Training when energy is high is optimal. At least for key sessions.
2. Pay attention to eating well. Fuel with a good simple diet of nutritious food. Plan fuel for late day sessions.
3. Make patience your mantra: hard work, routine commitment and practice are still the best guarantees to success.
Run For Joy!
insight into what sustains personal excellence and motivates us to achieve