In the September 2009 issue of Triathlete, Matt Fitzgerald has an article in there that hit the nail on the head: “Are You Lazy?” If you haven’t read it, check it out. He did a good job of encapsulating the very issues I think about as a coach every day…and even as an athlete.
From Matt: “If you are like most triathletes, you’re not afraid to swim, bike and run until you are cross-eyed, day after day. Hard physical work comes easily to you. But for all-too-may triathletes working harder is the solution to every problem. (Did you have a bad race? Train more!) Ironically, as we’ve seen, this tendency is symptomatic of a form of mental laziness. Working harder spares you from the less familiar challenge of seeking improvement instead by putting more thought into your training.”
EXACTLY! I was so excited to see this article, because Matt discussed everything that I have been struggling with in my head – as I try to figure out people’s minds (the hardest part of my job by far.) Giving athletes workouts and daily goals regarding how hard or how easy based on watts, HR or RPE is a challenge in itself but what makes each athlete “tick” is really the challenge. If Sally responds to track workouts well but Scott always gets injured….how do you simulate that type of intensity off the track – see, that stuff is “easier” to think about. What is hard is the mental part of this sport. And, I see, more often than not, is how neglected this discipline is.
With all the athletes I work with, the ones that stand out regarding this mental discipline are the ones who are patient, they understand this is a process and they understand that their goals can be met with consistency, dedication to the plan and really challenging themselves, not physically per se, everyone does that, but mentally instead.
Athletes get lazy. They get lazy in that they fall into bad habits. And, ironically, these habits are not bad when they get started. Of course not….rather, these habits are good – they get the athlete started and into a pattern and routine – which is what humans ultimately crave – especially Type-A OCD athletes. But, then they fall into that pattern and have a tough time breaking thru the glass ceiling. Instead of “knowing they should do X to become a better runner or whatever,” they tend to fall into their bad habits and run with their good friend Sally because it is MORE fun…Or easier to run with someone because the time passes by more quickly. But, deep down inside, most mindful triathletes know that in order to shatter that glass ceiling and take that next huge leap, they need to shake things up a bit – and say goodbye to Sally and say goodbye to these daily and weekly habits that keep us in our comfort zone.
Everyone is guilty of this. It takes a strong athlete mentally, to push that all aside and make the leap and most athletes can not do it. Most of us know what our limiters are. Some athlete’s limiters are easy: they are slower in open water than their competition, they get dropped on the hills, they get injured all the time……they can not race as hard or as well as they train, they battle disordered eating….etc…. Everyone has limiters – everyone – that is why there will always be someone faster, more fit and smarter than each of us. But, that is what keeps this sport alive and revolving, we need that!
This never has been more clear to me as this year. Over the winter, I worked very hard with one of the towns here and their Parks & Rec Director, who is also a triathlete and has been around a lot longer than me (think late 80s racing!). Anyway, it is no secret that IF we do organized, social activities (back to my earlier point!) that athletes will come out – especially the beginners. So, since I coach a lot of beginners, I selfishly wanted to do a Splash and Dash weekly event. This is a 1 mile mass swim start race + an optional VERY HILLY 5k. It would cost $5.00, we would have lifeguards, course with buoys, 5k marked, etc. I was not sure how well it would go over, but to my delight, we have had nearly 100 swimmers each week. Now, you would think this would make me VERY happy. It has. However, I still receive daily emails from athletes, friends and random strangers that ask me how to be a better swimmer. I say, “PRACTICE in the open water.” Pool swimming is great. Pool swimming builds the aerobic and anaerobic systems that we can transfer over to the OW…but with out getting into the OW – how do they really think they will be good Triathlete swimmers? There is a HUGE difference…and all of you that swam competitively in the pool, mastering flip turns and the such, will agree with me. Sure, the engine is there – but sighting, strategy, aggressive swimmers, getting beat up….those are not in the safety of our little YMCA pools.
So, when I get these emails or reasons from athletes that they just can not get to the OW practices OR find any time to swim in the OW – it clearly is a prime example of being lazy – and I mean more mentally lazy than physically lazy. They are afraid to challenge themselves – even in events like these that are purposely set up to make people feel safe. Because, on one hand, they are complaining in every sentence that they can not get faster in the OW – or their OW triathlon times are stagnant….but on the other hand, they won’t get into OW practice – or make the extra effort (and usually a pain in the butt if you are not near water) to get to the OW. But, without that effort and without that push, they remain stagnant. And, they will never improve.
This can apply across the board – think about it….Training with the SAME group – the same group that you know deep down inside you should probably run faster than…the same group you have been riding with for years. And, I am not totally crazy, I do realize that there is a social aspect of this sport – and trust me, I get that. Really, I do. But, I think after you have been doing this sport for a long time, I think you see what is limiting your progression or hindering getting you to that next level.
And, some athletes just show more willingness to change their training than others. Simon Whitfield, the Olympic Champion and someone I admire said it best when he was talking about Pros and these young Pros (26-27yo) getting too lazy because they have achieved some success and fall into the trap of not changing their training or forcing themselves out of their comfortable patterns because they are just that: Mentally lazy. He summed it up in this article by suggesting to follow these 3 tactics: 1.) Know Thyself; 2.) Be a Sponge; 3.) Train and Learn. No matter how excellent your coach is, it is still important and critical for each athlete to be a student of this sport. Study past training journals on recovery, race prep and adjustment to workout patterns. And, most importantly, the coach can not read your mind – it is up to each athlete to make sure that they know themselves…and that they just don’t follow a training program like a robot – instead they “analyze the body’s response to the program each day and adjust it as necessary – responsive coaching” – if the coach is plugged in to the athlete, the adjustments, with the help of the athlete is made on a very regular basis.
We are inherently lazy. It is just human nature. However, we are efficient machines. But, the mind needs the challenge. We get into the rut that the body needs a new challenge…and while that is true..it starts with the mind. It starts with re-vamping the training blocks or workouts that are stagnant and not making you become a better athlete. It involves really asking the hard questions to yourself. Some people will just train harder and beg and beg for MORE workouts and HARDER workouts and this and that…when quite frankly, that is usually not what they need. Everyone – no matter what level – has the same top goals for Triathlon. They want to get better. They want to have fun and they want to be the BEST that they can potentially be. Take a few moments and think about this as you start the 2011 season…and take some risks. I promise, the awards will be well worth the initial sting of the change.