Wow! September is only a few days away – where did the summer go! I’ve been wicked busy this summer filling my time with meaningful experiences.
As I dug deep into another Wednesday workout yesterday a thought occurred to me, I’ve sure stepped out of “the comfort zone” this year. It was the first time that I returned to the track to race in over 7 years and I tried my feet at the 10,000m. I applied to university, only to find I was missing a class, yet I persevered and got that class done in time to get in. After accepting an every so rare acceptance into a Masters of Physiotherapy at the University of Toronto I was faced with the reality of getting in and out of Toronto each day. Yet, I have all of that figured out to a ‘t.’ In addition to returning to the track earlier this season, now I will be returning to cross country this fall, as I still have 2 years of eligibility left. I was ecstatic when the UofT assistant coach welcomed me onto the team with open arms; with understanding of my intense class schedule and commuting making it impossible to make it to team practices.
I’ve been working hard training for the fall, though I realize I will have to run a bit less and make more compromises with running, since school will be a higher priority. I have been working with the mindset to build a strong base and be able to hold on to a lot of that fitness through the fall. It’s been a lot of fun training, looking ahead to something different. I’ve been training with my road racing friends as they prep for fall marathons. Rachel, Krista, Kait and Mitch are all looking great coming in to their seasons! I look forward to cheering them on in Berlin, Chicago and STWM!
I’ve been training for a half or full for the last 7 years (2 years during university as well) so it has been a while since I’ve trained for XC. So returning to these types of workouts has been the BEST way to see how much I’ve grown as an athlete since that time. I can find limitless strength in these legs, speed I never had, the ability to endure greater pain and discomfort, hill climbing strength, and much better form among other traits. The most of important of all traits gained is self-confidence. I feel more whole as an individual and am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses now. Now the tough thing with confidence is that it is fleeting – some days you will feel on top of the world and others you start to doubt yourself.
I find that it is a combination of things that help get my “head back”:
1) Looking objectively at my training – Could I have done this workout last year? Could I have done this mileage last year? Beyond pace, how does this workout feel? How could I improve in this workout in the future? Sometimes paces are slower but you paced yourself better, your form was better or you were less strained to do that workout. There are many other ways to measure growth in training beyond the numbers.
2) Growth in other areas of life – so many runners’ self-identity is tied to being a runner. The problem is that this gives you no where to go when things aren’t going well, you turn inward and beat yourself up. You need to work on other areas of your life too and realize that you are so much more than just ONE thing. This year, audiobooks have been a great way to encourage growth alongside inward reflection, in order to find areas to work on in my own life.
3) Reality check – How important is this race really? Does it change anything if you don’t do well? Will your family still love you? Will you still have a job? Do you still have your health? Is there not another race in the future that you can do? In reality, the pre-race nerves including fear of failure are far more extreme than necessary. There is an “inverted-U” relationship between stress and performance – it’s much like the Goldilocks tale. Too little stress and we don’t have enough motivation to perform well, too much stress and we are over-aroused and our performance also suffers. There is a “sweet spot” in the middle where you have the perfect amount of stress to perform the best. Now it is important to get a hold of pre-race nerves to use them in an effective way vs. having them sabotage us.
A new book that I recently listened to called “Brave Athlete: Calm the F Down and rise to the occasion” was one of the BEST self-growth books I’ve read to date. I found it really compared to Peak Performance, that I reviewed in an earlier post. The Brave athlete was written (and narrated) by a husband and wife duo – Dr. Simon Marshall a sport psychology expert who trains the brains of elite professional athletes and Lesley Paterson is a three-time world champion triathlete and coach. They draw from a wealth of knowledge from scientific research and actual real-world experience with real athletes. The synopsis of the book reads “The Brave Athlete solves the 13 most common mental conundrums athletes face in their everyday training and in races.” I found this book hilarious, with a few f’bombs and “inappropriate” references thrown in all over the place. In reality, this is the authors’ way of making sport science more accessible to everyone so that they can understand it without needing a degree in science. My favourite part of the book was the downloadable pdf accompaniment that had you ACTUALLY do an activity to work on the area they just taught you.
For instance, one of the first activities was to develop your “self-schema” (what you think about yourself) to help one realize that how they view themselves truly effects all aspects of their life. Others include: develop your alter ego, check your self-judgement system, a gratitude log, developing new rituals (or changing bad habits), identify fat feelings, dealing with injury, exercise dependance, comfort busting playbook, audit your quitting, how stress impacts attention, developing pre-race routine, the pressure test (is it real?), and a few others.
“The Pressure Test” is one activity that I have been working into my training already. It is designed to help you figure out if you’re actually under real pressure or if you’ve just convinced yourself that you are. This one stuck with me because oftentimes, even before workouts, I have a high level of anxiety, worrying about how well I will do.
Example questions from this activity:
Rate each from 1-5 (1 – Definitely no, 3 – well kind of, 5- definitely yes)
- I’m responsible for the performance and I will be judged by specific others
- I have no idea how I will perform.
- The race or event is very important
- I will be competing against others, and our performances will be ranked.
- I have a clear idea of what I want the outcome to be
Score: 5-10 Oh please that ain’t pressure. 11-19 Calm the F down it’s only stress. 20-25 yup you’re under pressure
The follow-up activity teaches you “JEDI PROFESSOR SKILLS” to give you problem-focused coping strategies that you can use and “CHIMP WRANGLING STRATEGIES” that are for emotion-focused coping strategies. The combination of these two will help you find the best combination to deal with pressure.
There is so much more to this book than this simple exercise but I find that it is actually practical, because as much as research shows something is the best thing to do to improve performance, that research is useless if no one shows you how to actually apply this to your training.
At the end of the day, no one is expected to know how to do all of these things on their own. That’s where learning and self-growth comes in. I love that this year I’ve decided to step out of my comfort zone and admit that no, I don’t know everything I need to do to improve, but yes, I choose to grow and learn. There’s always more to learn. I look forward to continuing to work through these exercises to learn more about myself and what makes me tick.
Tuesday starts my new life learning how to balance a masters degree program, training and life. I have worked out schedules for myself in order to keep training and be successful with running alongside my education. After all, running is a big part of my life, but it is not ALL of me. I look forward to pursuing my goals in all aspects of life. My first XC race is September 22nd and I look forward to crushing my old self as I revisit this blast from the past.
Why not just go for it? What’s the worst that could happen?