One morning a week, I join my local running brethren for a speed workout. To put it frankly, I dread these days. What draws me there? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps, it’s the camaraderie that accompanies commiseration. Maybe, it’s that feeling of accomplishment before taking on my day.
Speed workouts embody discomfort: heavy breathing, lactic buildup, muscle tightness, and opposing thoughts. All of that becomes amplified as the morning progresses (or, in my case today, digresses). Coupled with the running itself is the actualization of routine. I’ve had trouble adjusting to that because it wasn’t routines that lured me into running in the first place. Or maybe it was? Regardless, this type of structure – where need trumps want - is absolutely necessary for improvement to occur.
Some days are harder to realize this than others. Today was one of them. The goal: four one-mile repeats. At the halfway point of mile 3, I was ready to peel off the route and jog it out. All morning, I just could not settle in. I waited. Nothing changed.
The rest of the workout was all grind and no groove. I tried convincing myself that, maybe, just maybe, I would get rewarded for sticking with it. The proverbial switch will flip eventually, right? Nope. Instant gratification? I can’t help it. It’s my inner-millennial crying out.
In the past year, through my own experiences and in interviewing others, I have come to learn that mornings like today will pay off down the line. When and where? I have no idea. Heck, I might never learn why. What I do know is that it all counts. Yes, all of it. Every single thought, trial, failure, and step. Call it what you want - pay now, play later or sweat equity - but it does matter.
Back to this morning… Halfway through that third mile, the chatter started and remained incessant: It’s just one workout. It doesn’t really matter anyways. You’re not feeling it; pull the plug dude... The narrative had begun. Whether it came to be true or false depended on my response.
Ultimately, I finished the workout. It was well below sub-par. No gold stars. Nobody really even cares. In fact, it feels pretty insignificant even writing about it. But again, it counts. There was no excuse for me to cut it short and I knew that. It was a lesson in listening to the body. More importantly, it was about learning and familiarizing myself with my thoughts.
Performing when you’re not at your best is an inherent part of sport. So, too, is managing self-talk. Given their inevitability, they are also instrumental in creating success. One way to practice both is in training. Below is a platinum quote that Mark Allen (6X Ironman World Champ) shared with me:
If you’re surfing and blow your first two waves, you can get into that mindset of:
‘I suck today. I can’t surf’.
Instead, acknowledge that, and try to work on something that makes it worth sticking with it.
‘Okay, something’s not clicking, let me see if I can calm down, relax, and salvage something out of this.’
And then, it’s like all you’re trying to do is not surf your best. You are trying to just surf better than those first two waves.
Maybe you surf worse the entire session than you did the day before; but, after those first two waves, you got yourself to calm down and surf a little better.
In triathlon, you’re never 100%. I made it my goal to always learn something from each session. In a race, you might operate at 80%, 60%, 20%, 10%, 70%, and maybe 90%. No matter where you’re at, you’re still trying to pull it up just a blip. If you’ve never practiced that in training, you’ll just be stuck there. But if you have practiced that, you’ll be able to turn a bad day into a sub-par day and an awesome day into an off-the-charts day.
On days like today, it was about just being here. Future circumstances might differ, but no matter if you’re crushing it or feeling crushed, just being here is totally attainable. If it’s attainable, then it’s totally worth striving for. Yes, I understand I’ve got a long ways to go in my journey. In terms of what happens next, I’ll keep chipping away and let the rest take care of itself.
Musings, Ruminations, Reflections...
1. Don’t devalue difficulty.
2. Listen to your body.
3. Learn from your thoughts.
4. Settle in.
5. Be here. Now.