Coach Tip Tuesday: Be Wary of the Temptation to Beat Yourself
Can you believe it? It’s time for the 52nd and last Coach Tip Tuesday of 2021!
Resolutions and goals are often on everyone’s mind at this time of year. Temporal boundaries (such as the end of a year, month, or season) often provide us with a “natural” point to check in, assess what we’ve done, and evaluate where we would like to go.
As all of you know by now, I’m a big fan of setting goals. Goals help us hone in on what’s important to us and decide what direction we want to take our lives. This is especially true in the endurance sports world; in fact, athletes often set a goal first before they think about the process or path that they will need to embark on to achieve it.
Endurance sports tend to attract Type A and high-achieving personality times. As such, athletes frequently set goals with time parameters in mind. When athletes set time-based goals, they tend to have some preconceived ideas about how workouts should be executed to achieve those goals, including (but not limited to) feeling the need to “beat” themselves in every workout. I’ve observed this a lot over the years in dozens and dozens of athletes, and thus, it’s this mindset that inspired this week’s Coach Tip Tuesday:
Be wary of the temptation to beat yourself in successive workouts.
I’ve discussed before about how the most successful athletes are the ones who focus on process, not outcomes and who demonstrate a willingness to wait. Part of what yields this success is the athlete’s ability to execute a workout as it’s written/intended and not to focus on parameters that are not a part of the original planned workout, such as the total time (for distance-based workouts) or average pace of the workout and/or intervals within a given workout.
Sure, there are going to be instances over the course of a training plan where the goal is going to be to measure progress in terms of how one’s times compare to previous times achieved in training and racing. But on the whole, workouts in a training plan are written and designed in such a way that they often are not necessarily intended to yield a faster time when compared to recent workout. (Remember, the earliest we can expect a cellular adaptation in the body from a single workout is ten days after that workout.) Rather, the workouts are each “pieces of the puzzle,” serving the purpose of working toward a larger goal.
Stress + Rest = Growth
Most workouts are composed of three main elements: a Warm-Up, Main Set(s), and a Cool-Down. Occasionally, additional elements may be added, such as Drills or Preparation Sets, but most workouts contain at least those three main elements. The actual “work” intervals of a workout may be quite short percentage-wise when compared to the totality of the workout, which means that the overall average pace or total time of the workout may not reflect exactly what actually went on. Perhaps because of this, many athletes feel (and cave into) the temptation to push harder in areas of workouts where harder efforts are not designed, such as Cool-Downs, in order to try to average an overall faster pace, hit a specific distance within the duration that the workout is planned for, or to achieve an overall net time that is faster than previous workouts in their training plan.
Training plans are intentionally crafted with elements of stress and elements of rest/recovery. Stress + Rest = Growth. A training plan written by a caring and experienced coach is going to have a LOT of thought behind it. Yes, indeed, there is a method to the madness. It’s for this reason that athletes should resist the temptation to beat themselves. Doing so may actually disrupt the careful intricacies planned out in one’s training plan and can potentially delay achieving one’s goals by causing a setback or slowdown of progress instead of a breakthrough.
We Don't Need to Beat Yesterday
Phrases such as “Beat Yesterday” and “Last One, Best One” have been touted in the endurance sports community and have (unfortunately) served to propagate the idea that we should always be seeking to push ourselves (in this case, “push ourselves” means strive for a faster pace or harder effort) if we want to show that we’re “tough” and if we want to succeed.
We should always be seeking to give our best effort, but as I’ve discussed before, sometimes, being tough means doing the mentally hard thing, not the physically hard thing. This may very well mean that on a given day, our best effort and/or being tough manifests as showing restraint when the person’s default or easier choice would be to push hard.
Even for athletes who set time-based goals, it’s not always about the times. If your average times are slower this week than they were last week, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are off-track from your goals. (Again, remember that it takes at least ten days for the body to adapt from a single workout.) Simply looking at times and paces doesn’t account for the nuance that is inherent in every single athlete’s life and training plan.
The Bottom Line
As you round out 2021 and think about where you want to go in 2022 and how you are going to get there, resist the temptation to try to beat yourself day over day and week over week. Know that the collective body of work you are completing will add up when it REALLY matters - on race day or when you day of the goal you’ve set for yourself. It’s very okay if you don’t see progress in every workout or even in every week. Committing to the process that keeps you safe and injury-free is what will yield success when it counts - over the long haul.
Happy New Year, my friends! Thank you, as always, for reading and following along. I look forward to more conversations with you about all things endurance sports in 2022! I’ll see you next year. ;)
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.