It’s that time of year – squirrel time. Everyone is ansty about their 2010 plans. Races are being selected and goals are being set. Inboxes are filled with scenarios and questions. But for all the talking and planning we do, there are some basics for how to make progress. It is not as hard as you think. But, like most things in life, we humans tend to overthink ourselves into complexity.
I have been to the top (and bottom) of the sport. Seen it from nearly 360 degrees. I often think back to what made me a successful athlete because when my athletes tell me they want to do _______(top level goal), I have to honestly tell them “this is what it takes.” I thought about some of my athletes who are highly successful with their goals and some of my friends who have reached that level too. While there are many ways to achieve success, there are commonalities in the habits of successful athletes. Here are 20 things you can do to be a better athlete:
1. Learn how to eat. Garbage in = garbage out. Learn how to integrate more real food into your diet. Resist the urge to eat coffee as a meal, to skip meals, to eat processed foods, and to consider a “bar” a meal. Real food gives you real energy. Yes, it costs more but most worthwhile things in life are costly.
2. Follow the plan. If you are going to hire a coach to help you, put your trust in them and commit to following the plan. Not the parts of the plan that you like most. Not adding things you think you need to do. Follow it because unless you do, there is no guarantee it will deliver you to your goal.
3. Less talking, more doing. We are great planners and thinkers. Very few are great doers. On race day nothing else matters but the work you did. The 10 minute email you composed explaining to your coach why you couldn’t do the workout, there goes 10 minutes you could have been working out instead.
4. If it sounds like something you want to do, it’s probably not something you need to do. Not my words, but great words nonetheless. We want to do the things that sound sexy, fast and hard. Right now you need to be doing less of that and more of the ho-hum, easy, technical work. Remember, performance improvement is quite boring at times.
5. Be honest with yourself. Stop thinking in terms of who you used to be or who you think you should be. Face yourself as you are, accept it and commit to working from there. The longer you put this off, the more you delay your progress.
6. Learn to recover. Know that in training recovery is all that matters. Without it, you do not gain fitness. Spend one week paying extra attention to the space between the workouts to see the benefits of recovery. Learn how to eat right after a workout, get more sleep and do the little things that add up to big changes.
7. Teach yourself how to swim, bike or run all over again. Choose your weakness and then pretend like you’ve never done it before. Meet up with your coach or an instructor to learn it from the starting point. Maybe swimming is your struggle. Forget what you know and teach yourself how to swim again.
8. If you have an eating disorder, first admit it then get the professional help to overcome it. There is nothing magical your coach will say or do to fix the problem. It is also not fair to expect your coach to address your pathology – and that is what it is. Accept that and commit this year to getting help for it. Until you do, nothing will change.
9. Leave the analyzing to your coach. For one week, don’t look at your Garmin or your power files. Download them for your coach to analyze and wait for them to get back to you. How many times do I hear someone telling me the workout sucked when they actually had a breakthrough! We overanalyze ourselves to the point of losing sight of the little gains we are making.
10. The 2010 season begins now. Not in January, not when the weather is good. If you think that the girls/guys going to Clearwater/Kona/_______(where you want to go) are skipping workouts because the weather isn’t good, they didn’t feel like it, it doesn’t matter this time of year anyways….you are wrong.
11. Put your money where your mouth is. It’s one thing to set big goals, it’s another to buck up and do the work to get there. First, set realistic goals. You will not magically drop 1 minute from your 5K time next year. Second, do the work. If you tell your coach you want to achieve something, they are putting together a plan to help you get there. If you don’t do the work, you don’t want to get there. Simple as that.
12. Worry less about your weight and more about your body composition. As you get more into the sport, the composition of your body changes. Weight may go up though your body may be getting smaller. Learn to let go of the scale numbers and focus on what counts instead. From what I’ve seen, women obsess about the scale number, restrict food to get to their magical number when actually their body is leaner than ever (and then they ruin their performance by restricting food).
13. Let’s talk about Kona. If you want to go, and plan to qualify at a 70.3, ask yourself this: can you go there and honestly win that race? If you are in the 18 – 44 age group groups, that is nearly what it takes. If you want to go and plan to qualify at a full Ironman, look at the qualifiers from last year, view their times and ask yourself can I honestly produce that time? Do you get close to those times in training? Same goes for Clearwater. If you want to go, look at the results from your AG and ask yourself if you could honestly get into the top 5. If not, take it out of your vocabulary for this year.
14. Write your goals down and look at them every day. Face them, make them real. Write down one thing you can do to work toward them every day. Write down one thing you will sacrifice each week to get there. When you look back, you will have a list of everything you have done and everything you have sacrificed to get there.
15. Just fucking swim. Trust me, someone had to tell me that once too. If you want to get better at something you have to do it. Not think about it, read about it, talk about it or whine about it. DO IT. Do something 3 times a week for maintenance, 4 times a week for progress and 5 times a week for quicker progress.
16. Less weight lifting, more body strength. The funny thing about triathletes is that they can run a 4 hour marathon or do lat pull downs with a weighted bar but ask them to do 1 minute of single-legged squats and they poop out after 30 seconds. Remember that endurance sport is all about carrying your body weight over time. The stronger you are at carrying your body weight, the faster you go, the less injury you will sustain.
17. As you select your race plans, plan for less racing and more recovery. Keep in mind that for every half Ironman you do, you sustain a 3-week period where you do not gain fitness (1 week taper, 1 week race, 1 week recovery). That period goes up to 6 – 8 weeks for Ironman. Plan your races accordingly. If you include too many races, you enter too many weeks of race/recovery in which you cannot gain any fitness. Don’t stagnate through a year, grow.
18. Use equipment that makes sense for you. Just because so and so uses that bike or that shoe supposedly does this thing doesn’t mean it is right for your biomechanics. Choose products for logical reasons, not marketing reasons. Remember there is no magic shoe (unless you are off to see the wizard) and no magic wheel (but there may be a magic bus).
19. Work on your mind this year. Athletes will train their body but the best races comes from the combination of body and mind. Train your mind. We have over 50,000 thoughts that roll through our heads each daily. Learn to shape those thoughts to the outcome you desire. Your training plan should include a mental preparation component.
20. Consistency. Trust that no amount of talk, smarts, equipment, wishing, hoping or praying will replace consistency. That means doing the work day to day. I leave this as the last one because after over 10 years of competing and 3 years of guiding athletes towards goals, the one thing I have found that you cannot replace is consistency (which is a result of doing all of the things mentioned above). When you are constantly skipping workouts you are not consistent. When you are sick or injured because you don’t recover well or eat crap, you are not consistent. If you do anything this next year, learn to be more consistent and everything else will all into place.
Good luck in your 2010 season!