Coach Tip Tuesday: Learn from What the Day Gives You
Most endurance athletes have at least a partial (if not full) “Type A” personality. Among other things, Type A humans are characterized by their ambition, competitiveness, and high energy. In endurance sports, Type A humans seek to achieve a particular outcome, and in doing so, by definition seek to control the pathway that leads to that particular outcome.
Every endurance athlete experiences this once they begin their endurance sport journey: Not everything goes one’s way or even the way one expects it might, both in training and on race day. While this is something that all athletes do experience, it’s not something all athletes learn. This distinction between experience and learning is nuanced, yet so important.
Most athletes experience the fact that things don’t always go their way, and fight it when it happens. When things don’t go the way one wants or expects, our instinct is often to do one of the following:
Get upset with ourselves. (By far the most common reaction, and one many athletes will exist in for a prolonged period of time.)
Get upset with the circumstance. (A common reaction, born of out of a desire to explain and/or understand what happened.)
Double down and do more of what we have been doing.
Manipulate and control more variables within our viewpoint. (Aka do more of what we think is going to help us…which may or may not actually help us.)
While this is a normal, human reaction, this week I want to share something that changed my entire experience in endurance sports:
There is so much to learn from what the day gives you.
There is a time and a place to mourn what we thought might be, especially when we have invested a lot into that vision. After a brief mourning period, rather than defaulting to one of these reactions, be curious and seek to learn. If you can shift your mindset from one of emotion and/or control to one of curiosity, then (paradoxically, I know) you open yourself up to a higher probability of success. This is because you give yourself the opportunity to see things you didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) before, which gives you broadened and diversified experience. With this deeper range of experience, you may see alternative pathways to your goals, or maybe even alternative goals that are more meaningful to you than the ones you originally envisioned.
If a workout doesn’t yield the result you wanted or expected, ask yourself what the workout taught you about the circumstance or experience you did have. If you have a race day experience that isn’t what you envisioned (up to and including a DNF), ask yourself what lessons from the day you can apply to future races.
We don’t know what we don’t know. We won’t learn what we don’t know if we 1) Can’t admit this and 2) Don’t keep our hearts and minds open. This means that we can only learn new things if we are willing to view the world - including our own experiences - through a clear and open lens. This lens is often different from the one we typically view our lives through. If you’ve ever read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you know that the famous Emerald City only appears to be green because everyone within the city is wearing green-tinted glasses. When the characters take off the green glasses, they are able to truly see and fully appreciate the city around them for what it is. Like taking off those glasses, taking off our preconceived (and sometimes narrow) views gives us a different (broader) perspective and enables us to see so much more than we originally could.
The more time I’ve spent in endurance sports, the more I’ve realized that things rarely - if ever - go the way I expect them to. And this is okay. Not only is this okay, it’s honestly a good thing. We don’t have the capacity to see every possible outcome of a situation, which does mean that we can’t see every negative scenario. But what’s also true is that we cannot see every possible positive scenario. Having a narrow view of our training and racing limits our capacity for success, happiness, and growth. The only way we can experience, see, and appreciate positive outcomes is if we open ourselves up to learning from what the day gives us.
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.