This week’s tip is inspired by a post-workout comment I received from an athlete last week:
“Didn’t feel great when I woke up but that often changes when I get into a run. However, today went from bad to terrible. Knowing you, you’ll probably ask what specifically.”
As you might be able to tell from this comment, this athlete and I have been working together for a while. And as such, I know this athlete pretty well, and this athlete knows me pretty well. They knew that I wouldn’t just accept them saying that something was terrible. They knew that I would want to know *exactly* what made the run terrible.
Many athletes have told me over the years that they “dread” when I ask this question: “What specifically made you feel the way you did?” Why do they dread it? Because I’m asking them to look at themselves and their workouts in extreme detail. Sometimes, this leads people to see things that they don’t necessarily want to see. Other times, it just feels like a lot of work. But that’s my job: to help athletes see the things that they can’t see themselves, so they can get to a place that they couldn’t have gone to on their own.
Here’s the deal folks: Being specific in your reflections on your training and racing is SO useful. Sure, it’s helpful for me when athletes provide specifics on their workouts and how they feel. And while that’s great (and it certainly helps me do my job better!), the REAL reason why I try to have athletes establish the habit of specificity is for THEM.
In my humble opinion, a good coach helps athletes learn more about themselves and increases the number of tools in the athlete’s toolbelt so that the athlete is well-equipped when they (inevitably) go off into the world on their own without the coach right there to guide them. This might happen at a race when the coach isn’t there on-site with the athlete to help them, in a workout, or even more permanently when the athlete discontinues working with the coach. But no matter what, athletes NEED to be able to function on their own. A coach’s job is to help them learn to make wise choices for themselves and to help them to feel confident that they know themselves well enough to make the right choices.
Increasing self-awareness is one of the most instrumental ways a coach can accomplish this mission. As I talk about so often, the three pillars of endurance training are frequency, consistency, and self-awareness. Helping athletes excel in all three of these arenas really increases the athlete’s probability of success at reaching their goals.
And so, the specificity factor comes into play with self-awareness. Saying something didn’t feel good is okay, but saying WHY it didn’t feel good is better. If something didn’t go well, you really should take the time to reflect on why it didn’t go well so you can learn from the experience and seek to avoid following the same path to feeling terrible twice. Most people don’t enjoy it when things don’t go the way they want them to, so it stands to reason that you would want to do what you can to avoid landing in the same place twice, right?
This actually works on the flip side of this as well; saying something was good is okay, but identifying WHY it went well is where you really get a lot of insight. Honestly, I think that most people don’t usually spend enough time identifying what went well; folks tend to take feeling good for granted. But if you don’t know WHY you felt good in a workout or in race, how can you realistically expect to replicate a similar result, or even more importantly, build upon that to reach a loftier goal or a better result?
So being specific really does serve you well, whether a workout went great or poorly. And it’s REALLY important to document the specifics soon after the workout or race in question; just yesterday (Monday), an athlete wrote the following comment on a workout they completed on Saturday, “Don’t remember much of this workout.” Just TWO days later, the athlete couldn’t’ remember enough details to give me subjective feedback on the workout. You may have the best of intentions (as this athlete definitely did! :) ) to remember everything and to record it later, but I’m telling you (after analyzing and responding to literally thousands of workout uploads and comments), that the chances of you remembering the specific details of a workout or race beyond those first couple of post-event hours are VERY small (and I PROMISE that you are not the exception to this!! :) ).
So, do yourselves (and your coach, if you have one!) a solid: be SPECIFIC when you make notes about how something went. As an athlete, you’ll really value the feedback you leave for yourself as you plan future workouts. If you have a coach, your coach will LOVE it and it will enable them to do the job that you hired them to do so much better.
So say it with me in your best cheerleader voice: Be Specific! B - E - Specific!
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.