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
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.