The beginning of the New Year provides athletes and coaches alike an opportunity to reflect on the previous year’s training and racing, reliving the successes and struggles of maintaining consistent, healthy, and productive training. As Strava and other social platforms publish their ‘year in review’ summary of miles, elevation gain, and accomplishments athletes often begin to ask what will give them the added leverage they need to realize a goal in the upcoming racing season. While each individual has various demands upon their time and ecosystem, common underlying habits emerge that help to separate those who seem to struggle through training and racing and those who seem to achieve their outlined pre-season goals, grabbing a few PR’s and AG placings along the way.
Arguably, one of the greatest predictors of success vs. failure is the ability to establish and maintain a pattern of consistent training. All too often, athletes miss workouts, scrambling to make up miles and time by going longer and harder in subsequent workouts. Random, poorly planned training load and miles quickly erode the foundations for success.
Regardless of changes in schedules and time demands all of us adopt habitual patterns. From the morning cup of coffee or checking emails and social media as soon as we wake up to our daily run or lifting session… all of us have a combination of beneficial and potentially harmful habits which guide our activity and productivity throughout the day. Constructively thinking of ways to establish frequent and consistent exposure to training increases your chance of establishing a productive habit. And the more you do it the harder it is to break – use this to your advantage. Waking up 30 minutes earlier, or watching the latest Netflix show while completing your trainer ride may help you to optimize your time, establish a habit, and maintain consistency of training.
The best way to break up a bad habit is through graded exposure to a new, intentional action.
When working with the athletes that seek our services one common theme emerges – life is stressful and, at times, chaotic. However, you would never know this from the outside looking in for many of our most successful and efficient athletes. They are calculated and focused on their daily, weekly, and monthly goals, handling the task at hand and allowing tomorrow to worry about itself. This does not mean they are not dealing with busy work or family schedules, traveling to and from appointments or after school activities, or dealing with last minute changes. Instead, they handle the chaos by effectively communicating to their network of supporters (coworkers, family, friends) around them, ensuring their own priorities, and the priorities of their supporters, are being met.
You can either control the time you have well or your perceived lack of time will control you.
Athletes who are focused on the task and goal at hand, regardless of life circumstance(s), maintain life balance and improve their resiliency to stress.
An equation is often used to illustrate the ‘magic’ formula for success in endurance athletics. It is: 7 x 52 x 10 – 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 10 years. The theme? Committed patience. Physiologic and neuromuscular adaptations do not happen overnight or after a few weeks of consistent training. Are you trying to figure out why your race did not go well despite having 6-8 weeks of solid build prior to race day? Consider looking at the 10-12 weeks prior or go back even further. How consistent has your training really been? Are you fully focused and committed to the task at hand?
Training does not have to become an all-consuming aspect of day-to-day life, where all else revolves around your workout schedule; however, if your desire is to be highly effective it requires careful planning, critical thinking, communicating with your supporters and/or coach, patience and trust in the process.
Percy Cerutty perhaps put it best when he remarked, “Hard things take time to do. Impossible things take a little longer.”
While life is undoubtedly stressful and chaotic, changing at a moment’s notice regarding time demands and deadlines, establishing a stable foundation is a strong defense in weathering the storm around you. Stability fosters success. What anchors do you have or can you develop to better stabilize and hold you fast? Perhaps it is as simple as discussing the approaching week’s schedule with your family, significant other, or supporters. Or perhaps it is prepping meals and post-workout recovery snacks on the weekend in advance of the busyness and chaos of the work week. Whatever steps you can take to promote efficiency and consistency will directly improve the stability of your day-to-day interactions.
This time of year, sickness, in the forms of cold and flu, are inevitable. Add to that the various life-stressors we encounter on a day-to-day basis and it is easy to appreciate the challenge of maintaining a consistent and focused training schedule. However, athletes who are self-aware have an ability to reflect on possible circumstances that may impede their ability to train, and they communicate this information in a constructive and proactive way to their coach and those around them, problem solving and creatively planning to maintain consistency and exposure to training.
Perhaps you can relate to the following situation – an athlete has a hard 75-minute run with 6x 4-minute interval session on Wednesday, but they are struggling to maintain their health due to having 2 kids with colds and a project at work due on Friday morning.
So, what would you do?
Many individuals may just put their head down and try to push through. However, all too often the result is they miss the workout all together, complete only part of the planned duration, or they pull back on the intensity as they struggle to get through the session. Instead of accomplishing a polarized model of training, all their workouts begin to the look the same as they struggle to find the time, energy, and will to push beyond their plateauing fitness. The self-aware athlete intuitively recognizes the potential for an immune system setback and reduced time availability and communicates with their coach, working to identify an approach which fosters continuity of training while taking into consideration the total stress on their system.
Arguably one of the most common laments regarding missed workouts and poor training consistency is, “I just don’t have time.” Stop for a moment. How honest are you being with yourself? Every day is 24 hours…no more and no less. What’s your time worth to you? How efficiently are you utilizing your time?
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage - pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good’.” (Steven Covey)
Honesty can be a hard pill to swallow, as it frequently acts as a mirror, reflecting our failures, faults, and shortcomings. But it can also be a powerful motivator, allowing us to prioritize our day-to-day interactions in an effort to improve self-awareness and consistency of training.
The days are short, temps have fallen, trails and streets may be covered in snow and ice, and the wind seems to cut through your jacket. Any one of these may seem like more than enough reasons to cut the workout short, reschedule to a different time, or skip all together. Unfortunately, this is a pattern all too common with many non-structured athletes. In contrast, effective athletes embrace the adversity and challenge which comes with training year-round. There is a fire burning deep inside them which pushes them forward. Weather, schedule changes, terrain, and unpredictable stressors do not stand in their way. In fact, many embrace it as their tenacious personality gives them ‘persistence of purpose.’ They know their ‘why’ and are committed to the journey. The challenge and suffering that often goes hand-in-hand with training slowly begins to harden and develop their endurance, which in turn builds their consistency and success.
Alex Hutchinson describes endurance well when he writes, “The struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.” A tenacious athlete wrestles with themselves, balancing self-awareness and honesty, patience and focus, as they prepare themselves for the battle that awaits when they toe the line on race day.
Perhaps you have some of these habits already firmly in place. Perhaps others are areas of opportunity. Working with a coach who knows you as an individual and the unique demands on your ecosystem may be a step in the right direction for beginning to foster and develop these habits as you move into a New Year and decade of training and racing.
Happy New Year! Wishing you a strong and healthy training and racing season.
Joel Sattgast is a physical therapist, performance coach, assistant professor of physical therapy, a Dad, husband, and an athlete. All posts are related to evidence, opinions and thoughts regarding various performance and rehabilitation topics.