Sunday, August 21, 2011

Finding Balance

As a coach, it's easy to feel as if I've failed and athlete if she or he does not have the performance they are capable of or expect. I feel the same way if someone struggles to reach a certain fitness goal.  I tend to be pretty hard on myself with this issue and often have to talk some sense back into myself while taking a bike ride or a run.  On the same note, I share with equal enthusiam and excitement when an athlete or fitness client reaches a milestone. 

I can say with confidence that every program I create is done with great intention.  I'm also careful to consider a person's work and family life not to mention much needed "chill" time and all the extra time needed just to do things like grocery shop, get your car oil changed, walk the dogs, make meals etc.  I try to write programs that allow for balance.  I have learned that people really appreciate and enjoy having some structure with regard to their training, racing or fitness goals. It's nice to have a calendar that notes the progressive structure of  daily workouts with included heart rate/effort zone, and occasional added drills.  I have to admit, I love having that kind of structure and often feel and peform better when I do that for myself Too bad I don't that often enough!  What I can't control is what goes on in a person's life outside of the training aspect, and this is what I have to remind myself of constantly.  This is the part of my job that causes me to struggle. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a nice, neatly packaged plan that kept us balanced in all aspects of our life?  Let's face it, life is hard and we are thrown challenges constantly.  Finding balance and staying balanced is an ongoing process and sometimes it's harder than others.  As much as I feel a plan is appropriately structured for someone, I can't control if their kid was up all night vomiting, if they had to pull an extra shift at work, if they broke a toe while sleep walking or are struggling with something on a very personal level.  What I can be is compassionate and empathetic because I also have had to find and create that balance in my life over and over.  I have set certain priorities in my life which have really helped me stay in,or come back to balance when I've felt that that I was slipping.  Great performances often do not happened because "balance" just was not present in his or her life.  I find that most injuries  or illnesses occur when some significant part of someone's life is off balance. Those that bounce back, heal and regain balance the fastest are the ones who have learned how to become a resilient individual. I also fee strongly that balance can be restored faster for those that are proactive about seeking support, whether it be physical or emotional therapy. 

I recently had dinner with an athlete that I have coached for about two years. He started with me having never owned a bike and now has the typical triathlete's fifteen pair of running shoes in his garage (as well three different types of bikes hanging on his wall).  He's made some of the biggest and fastest improvements I've every seen in any athlete in a very short period of time.  With this being said, we are both waiting for him to put together that peak performance in which everything comes together  at the level we both believe he is capable of achieving.  He's come very close.  During our dinner conversation we talked about some things that make a really great performance happen.  Sometimes it's just as simple as "it just happens" when you least expect it.  More often however it happens because we set ourselves up for success.  Most people don't realize that they are sabotaging their chances of a great race or the chance of racing well on a consistent basis. This is why when someone calls me after a race and says that it did not go so well or as they had hoped, I start asking questions. Usually, the answers as to why come to the surface.  Here are a couple of examples.

The athlete I noted above who has yet to have his peak day (and it's coming) disregarded his usual pre-race plan the night before a half Ironman.  Instead of chilling, resting up and storing his mental and physical energy the day before the event, he went out on a boat with friends, did some tubing, ate poorly and just totally got away from "his game."  Part of his reasoning for doing so was because friends had come a long way to see him race and he felt obligated to hang with them, even though he knew what he really needed to do was rest up.  He sabotaged his taper and ultimately, his race. Lesson learned? Sometimes you have to be selfish the night before a race.  Another athlete I coach placed second in a race he probably should have won. Sounds harsh I know, because second place at a championship event is pretty impressive. He noted that he felt flat on the bike and had nothing on the 2nd half of the run. So, I began asking questions.  Apparently the swim was delayed for over a half an hour and participants had to sit on the beach and nervously wait for fog to lift.  I asked him if he stayed hydrated, made sure to take in calories, walked away from the nervous energy (knowing he gets very nervous).  The answers? "No," "no", and "no."  As a matter of fact, he forgot to hydrate even and eat even before the delay. He sabotaged his race.  Lesson learned?  Have a fueling and eating protocol for every scenario and go find a chill space. I will say that I have witness people who have sabotage their chances of reaching their goals out of fear of failing to be succesful. Sound twisted? It's a whole other can of goodiess for discussion.

Everyone has a different way of keeping that pre-race balance. Sometimes it takes a while and serveral experiences to figure out those elements.  I used to get horribly, horribly nervous before my races when I was competing at the pro level.  I managed to figure out that I usually performed better if I stayed with a host family (versus in a hotel).  I also found that watching a funny movie the night before relaxed me and took my mind of the pending event.  I'm not racing at that level anymore so I don't have to deal with those kinds of nerves these days, however I still try to set myself up for success by staying as balanced as possible on all levels.  What happens if the balance is thrown off by something out of our control (for example your child waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares and disrupting your sleep?)  You go to "plan B", which is to "go with the flow."  I work with a couple of athletes who are amazing at doing this and while they may not have felt on top of their game, they didn't allow the uncontrollable elements to steal any mental energy.  The balance might have been thrown off a bit, but the resiliant side of them kicked in!

I often say to athletes who are competing in and Ironman that there will be periods during the event where things will feel balanced then there will be periods of lows, when they may not feel they can take another step. It is at that point that they need to aske themselves, "what do I need?"  Figure it out, switch things up.  It's the same with life, don't you think?  When things are off balance, ask yourself what it is that you need ..... and  you will probably find an answer.