Thursday, January 24, 2008 know, cause it's catchy

I've been struggling a little recently. With my attitude. And I haven't totally figured it out, either.

I'm working on it.

So...recently I started to train my mind a little, in addition to my body. Here's why. I'm having a hard time naturally thinking about myself as an athlete. I don't feel compelled to run around all the time in jockette clothes and yelling out splits for my time from street corner to street corner.

No, it's more like I have to adjust my thinking to include the EMOTIONAL needs I have as an athlete.


:: pause ::

Athletes have emotions? Special emotions? Athlemotions?

Yerp. Apparently so. Who knew?

Here's the thing. We put demands on ourselves, as well as our bodies. Demands for progress. Demands for meeting expectations. Demands for consistency.

Essentially, if we were dating our athletic selves, we would be like, "yo, need to BACK IT OFF a little. I mean really! You're a littl' INtense, ya know?"

Or maybe not. But you know what I mean.

As athletes, we become emotionally demanding little cusses, always wanting to see weekly goals met, monthly goals met, target times, increased thresholds, personal bests. I know tons of people that don't even display that kind of attitude when it comes to their JOBS, as in the things that they are PAID to do every day.

And we track and compute and memorize and compare. I can tell you without consultation my average 100, the actual BPM when my heart rate goes out of the aerobic zone, and predict my heart rate in specific gear ratios on my bike (well, at least when it's on the trainer). And I'd have to admit that I visit my Training Peaks more religiously than I do my checking account online statements.

And it's not just that we obsess. We have no mercy. Don't meet an hourly training goal for the week? Otherwise valid reasons start sounding like raging excuses. Backing off of a bum knee for a day feels shameful. Shameful. We don't just feel guilt, we feel regret.

And, frankly people, sometimes we just get out of hand. Our responses to our own "failures" (to hit an interval, gain enough on your average pace, meet the week's hourly plan) become out of proportion to what it really means.

For me, I'm still learning how to manage this -- to curb my own propensity for self flagellation when I don't progress leaps and bounds or don't hit every mark.

CASE IN POINT. Two weekends ago. (and yes, this post has been sitting in "edit" mode for that shoot me.) Coming off of a hard week, my left knee started hurting. Not the usual aches and pains, and not just when biking or running. Like pain. While sitting. Sitting still. So I backed off. I DNS'ed a brutal trail run that I love because I thought it was less than wise to run on my knee.

And then I worried. And moped. And worried. And felt guilty. And then began to wonder (I kid you not) whether this would deplete the progress I had already made this month since it was the tail end of a peak week.

Because I'm a little crazy-like.

Because I'm invested in this and emotional about it.

And because I'm an athlete, which means I give a $hit about my body, my progress, my commitment.

Because I believe that what I do says a lot about who I am.

Because I'm a freaking athlete.

: : SO : :

ANOTHER CASE IN POINT. Last Thursday morning. In the pool.*

The day was a retest. Oh, my bad, let's be accurate. It was a RETEST. The Elf was back with the all caps again.

So, my technical goal: warm up 1000, 10 x 100 ALL OUT MAX EFFORT, ri:10", c/d up to 1000.

My goal inside my head that I don't mention to anyone before I hit the pool but I am really really really personally invested in? Shave 5 seconds off my average 100. Yup. I dream big. Five seconds off my average 100...which means feeling the burn and keeping the form for longer and harder than I did last time.

What do you think happened?

Three. Lousy. Seconds.

Off my average, you ask?


That's right. NO.

Three lousy seconds off of my total elapsed time.

Ouch. Take that, ego. Take that, inside-my-head-goal. Take that, plan.


Here's the million dollar question -- what do I do with that emotion? How do I manage it in a way that it leads to my progress rather than sidetracking my efforts?

It's hard! It's a challenge to not immediately think about hours spent in the pool and to wonder if I'm just not doing it right or not cut out to swim any faster. It's hard to not interpret the emotion of disappointment negatively, converting it into a conclusion. It takes effort to make sure I use the information in a positive way.

But, you know what?

We're athletes, so we're really, really good at that effort thing. We just have to make sure we make our emotions just as relevant as our splits. Because -- at least for me -- mismanaged emotional responses to training can immediately, do not pass go, no getting out of it, completely ruin hard earned progress.

You know what I mean. Ever miss a run because your knee hurt and mope about it over a pint of ice cream?

Oh, you so know what I'm talking about.

My point? We are going to have emotional responses to our training. Period. Get used to it. It's not wimpy or's a fact of life. And like all of those less then wonderful facts of life (um, hullo, saddle sores?!), learning to predict, acknowledge and process will get you ahead of the game.

So, I've added training my emotions to my list of swimbikerunstrengthstretching tasks each week. I suspect it will be time well invested...We'll see!

* Dude...catch that? The "morning" thing coming so close to the "pool" word? Yup! Me. In the pool. Before work. Small victory over my bed? Helz yeah.


JenC said...

I was so there yesterday in the pool. I was supposed to do all of these pull sets in a particular interval time, but I could barely make the interval let alone have extra time to rest. I almost cried. Hard to keep it in perspective some times. I totally relate to this post.

Kim said...

i love this post. everything you pointed out i was nodding along with. some days are better than others and we cant beat ourselves up over it!

AGA said...

Nodding right along with this one! Worry and guilt, if those were events I would be a gold medalist.

Take care of you:)

ShirleyPerly said...

I think a coach ought to be including training on how to handle your mental game right alongside with the training on how to get physically stronger, faster, etc. IMO, they're completely connected. Good luck!

IM Able said...

I totally agree, Shirley! Thankfully, Liz is really tuned into this element of the athlete, as well as the physical development. She includes mental "assignments" each week and encourages a really open dialog about (literally!) how I *feel* about my training.

I think, though, it also takes an investment on the athletes part to work at identifying how they are emotionally responding to stressors and, for that matter, what their stressors are. I think self-awareness is a HUGE component of what you can bring to the coaching relationship...or just to your own personal development throughout training.

Thanks for the comment!

Stef said...

I really relate to this post as well. :-)

Congrats on getting up early to swim! Way to start the day with a success.

Wes said...

I only get emotional about my training when it makes me cry like a baby :-) One thing can be said for the swim test, you are consistent and spot on! I'd be interested to know what the ELF felt about your test, and whether or not she plans on modifying your training to achieve that elusive "breakthrough" effort?

triguyjt said...

I really can relate to this post. I often beat myself up if I miss hitting certain training goals.. get alittle obsessive about it..yah know??
on the other hand, sometimes, I gloss over my missed goals and I think that can hurt my development as an endurance athlete.

very good post.. well worth the time in the "edit" mode ;-)

Tea said...

I've been thinking lately...y'know cuz I'm slow...and have alot of time....about the change emotionally that we go through. Each new level that we hit physically, adds to our emotional bucket. The disappointments are just as important as our successes, because if we use them correctly they will be what pushes us to our next breakthrough.

Andrea said...

Love your post!

You know though, and this is hard to remember when you are in the thick of pondering your "athlemotions", every time you think you aren't making progress, and everytime you think you are too slow or you skipped a workout for the wrong reason, there is some one else out there that is slower than you, injured for real, or not even trying.

Your swim sets/time put me to shame.

Keep up the AWESOME work and keep ispiring others!

LBTEPA said...

When it comes to having a day off it can help to think of yourself as a lifelong athlete who's managing the next 50+ years of active living.
When 'whole life' gets in the way of athletic life (eg 4yo decided to start waking up every 3 hours, WTF? arrgghh) it can also help to mutter, oh well, it's not as though my spot on the team for Beijing is at stake. That's what I do anyway :)

Comm's said...

its like athlete pms. Isn't it?

emotion maybe, you put a great touch on it. I look at it as being Type A personality.

Meggan Ann said...

Haha, yet another reason I love ya.