Have you ever stared at a page so intently, that your vision starts to blur the very words you are trying to concentrate on? At first, it’s just the words that surround the ones you are trying to read, but soon enough the entire page becomes a blur of confusion.
Triathlon can be like that. Or any thing (goal, desired outcome, key point in your life) that requires you to really latch on to, and burn a hole through, with your laser focus.
You can stare right into that sucker and really dial yourself into what it is and how it makes you feel; how you want it, what you will do to get it, and how you will feel when you do so.
For you, right now, it might be getting to your first Ironman illness-free and uninjured, or maybe it’s your first time preparing for Kona, or maybe it’s preparing to get the spot that will get you to Kona.
Whatever it is, you want it bad.
And you burn a hole into the page of your desire to get there. But sometimes, when we focus so hard, so intently for so long, the words blur, we lose focus, and eventually a place on the page is lost and we have to spend-time retaking our steps back to where we were.
You can stare so damn hard that you miss the entire page.
This also happens in training. More often than you might think.
We stare so hard at our goals (and we should be) that we begin to lose focus; all the thing that are truly important to that goal begin to slip, as the attention wanders and questions (chatter) push to the front of the mind. Instead of listening to what we should be, we start bouncing around, clinging to something (anything) tangible that we can force into working for us to get that goal.
We see this when athletes start doing more (instead of the same), or doing less (instead of the things they should be following). Things like changing nutritional strategies that have been tested and proven, and going back to ones that you know don’t work. Things like pushing when the body is screaming to stop (there is a time and place to say NO). Or adding more and more into you training because you are scared that everything you have done is still not enough (you would be surprised as to how little ‘enough’ is, and how effective that can be).
It boils down to an inherent misunderstanding that the goal, the outcome is so great and so important (and it is, of course) that you can afford to make ill-informed (wether your own intuitive judgement, or your coach’s) decisions.
This is the words on the page beginning to blur. A warning signal that it is time to STOP.
Yes STOP. Not completely. But long enough to take stock of the situation, and assess.
If you do stop, you can take time to look at your situation and say, “right – here is my goal, and here is where I am. Is what I am doing today taking me there, or is it taking me away from that goal”. This is a bit of an over-simplification as it’s not that easy to do – but it is that important. If you find it hard to do, then work on it, or work with people who know how to work on it for you.
It’s this constant self-assessment that will make you a better athlete.
It is so easy to get into the rut of “Must train. Must train. Must do more. Must work harder. Must get Goal”.
Of course a degree of that drive and determination is essential, but not to the point that you cannot see where you are, or cannot assess how you are truly performing (not just how you want to perform). But if you aren’t stopping to check on yourself – clearing the vision, or worse(!) ignoring the feedback completely and just pushing through, then you will eventually unravel in ribbons of fatigue and despair.
We have seen this so many times with athletes, and we have been there ourselves.
In essence, what gets lost here is your ability to intuitively think and adapt. And make the right decisions, at the right times.
That is a key to training well.
Not just training and grinding away and hoping that on the other side you become the diamond. Training is about knowing when to push more, and when to ease up. It’s a balance of intuitions, logic, and good ‘ol common-sense.
It can be a bitter pill to swallow too. At a guess, I would think that most triathletes struggle with the knowing when to ‘ease back’ part, but be pretty switched on with the ‘pushing through’ part. You can do one and not the other – it is a balance of both. If you only focus on pushing thorough all the time, then you will find yourself in a hole. This is how most injuries and illnesses occur.
A lot of the time, athletes think that easing back means stopping completely. Or that an easier session, or even week will set you back light years in performance. That could not be any more wrong. Easing back (when you need to) is essential to developing. Easing off isn’t stopping. Easing off is listening to the body, acknowledging the feedback and responding accordingly.
That doesn’t make you a weak athlete. It makes you a SMART athlete.
That constant desire to push through without stopping to reflect is you, staring so hard at the goal – being so outcome (guilty) driven, that you disperse of common-sense in favour of irrational decisions.
It’s OK to be driven by your goal – it is important. But don’t become so intently focused on IT that you lose focus on where you are, and where you should be.
Stare at that page, long and hard. But be prepared to take a break from time to time.