My friends, welcome to Coach Carrie’s Confessional Column (or the CCCC, if you will). This month, we're going to play my little version of “Never Have I Ever.” Don't worry, I'm not going to dig too deep and ask about your college exploits. That would mean I would have to do some confessing of my own, and I'm definitely not going there.
Below are some questions. I want you to give me your honest answer. Ready? Good, me neither.
Have you ever dreaded a race?
Have you ever stood on the start line and wondered if you could just bail because of fear or worry?
Have you ever thought to yourself (either during training or a race), "I just want this to be over with” ?
Have you ever said, "I'm never doing this crap again.”
Have you ever signed up for a race because a bunch of your friends were doing it, only to realize you really didn't want to do it in the first place?
Have you ever whined or complained about your training load and lack of social life?
Have you ever talked incessantly about a nagging injury, but proceeded to keep training because "you have to"?
Have you ever said, "This isn't fun for me anymore"?
I don't know about you, but I embarrassingly answered "yes" to every one of those questions. The truth of the matter is there are times I've felt trapped by the athletic endeavors that supposedly free me from the confines of depression. Admittedly, I’ve been more irritable and grumpy about training than I have been happy and carefree. I've been (and still am) a slave to sometimes unrealistic paces, times, and power numbers for the sake of proving to myself that I'm a healthy beast—even when this beast is hobbling around like a lame duck.
Working at a multisport training center, there are days when I notice, sadly, how unhappy some athletes look when they come in for a workout. Some days I feel like I’m a prison warden checking people back in from a weekend of furlough. What is going on? Why are many of us unhappy in an environment that's supposed to be filled with endorphins and endless energy? Aren't we supposed to be dopamine-producing machines? And to that point, why do we keep putting ourselves through this one-sided relationship torture?
Since this is a therapy session for all of us, let's explore together why our joy starts to get sucked down the funnel of unhappiness in the first place.
Overtraining. Yes, there is such a thing.
Unrealistic Expectations. I'm not 22 years old anymore, but I want to train like it.
Loss of Social Life and Balance. Aka, social suicide.
Fatigue. Sleep? What's that?
Myopic Focus. Me, me, me.
Taking our Abilities for Granted. Hip pain is normal, right?
Training Isolation. Meet my best friend, Netflix.
Failure to Reach Goals. Grrrr
What other reasons can you think of?
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at the Whole Foods wine bar (not shocking) with my hubby. We started talking to a guy next to us who noticed an Ironman logo on my hat (also not shocking). He told us he used to do triathlons, but got completely burned out on them. At one point, he was chasing a trip to the World Championships in Kona but kept falling a little short. Subsequently, he lost all desire to train for one again.
He seemed wistful. You could tell he still wasn't ready to think about making a comeback. His relationship with the sport had become toxic.
I reached out to fellow athletes and coaches to seek their advice on how to avoid this tragedy from happening. How, I asked them, can you keep the happiness and spice in your training and racing?
1. Find a Support System
Professional triathlete Missy Kuck is used to spending a lot of time training alone on a treadmill. While it keeps her focused, she admits that running alone does tend to suck the fun out of some of her workouts. Her advice? Train and race with a team. Bonus: If family can't make it to a lot of your races, you'll always have a built-in support system and cheering squad. Let's face it. Your office mate is tired of hearing about your 5:45 a.m. swim sessions, but there’s nothing more your fellow teammates like to talk about than training. Why? Because they're right there with you.
2. Keep It Fresh with Mini-Goals
Local master's swimmer Judy Pusch suggests setting a series of mini-goals that aren't necessarily directly related to a long-term goal, but support it in some way. Pusch swims every day, but has set some mini-goals: doing more open water swimming and learning how to stand-up paddleboard. Both will keep her near her beloved water, but provide exciting opportunities to learn new skills, meet new people, and even work on her core strength. As in relationships, even the best of couples have mini date nights to help rekindle some romance.
3. Keep a Training Diary to Monitor Progress and Feelings
This one is a slippery slope. Incessant logging of every minute, mile, and calorie can drain the fun, but sometimes it's rewarding to look back and take stock of the progress you’ve made. Pusch agrees. "Seeing improvement over time in written form is motivating and it gives me a chance to see where opportunities for improvement exist," she said. Plus, it allows her to see her progression over a long period of time rather than just being grateful that the workout is over.
4. Go Gadget Free
Wait what? Yep. There's something so frightening, yet so freeing about the idea of training and racing with no watch, no GPS, or no heart rate monitor. Try it out on your next training day or small race. Let go of your technological inhibitions and see what happens when you simply allow yourself to be guided by your body, your surroundings, and those voices inside your head that tell you it's okay to push a little more. You just might be pleased with the results and the freedom of feeling a little naked.
5. Enjoy the Experience, Not the Result
Ironically, this advice gem came from six-time Olympic medalist and swimming icon Brendan Hansen. Wouldn't you expect him to be all about results? Surprisingly, he’s not. While Hansen has a handful of gold medals hanging on his mantle, he stresses the importance of enjoying the experience over any result. "If you get too far in your own head," he said, "you miss the entire point of why you're out there in the first place." During races, high-five the volunteers, cheer for others, and soak in your surroundings. Treat each race like a honeymoon that you want to remember forever. Sure, things can go awry, but sometimes that's when the fun and memorable experiences happen.
6. Understand the Impact Your Energy Has On Others
This is another virtue Hansen dispenses to his athletes on a daily basis. "Be enthusiastic about what you're doing and share that positive energy with others," he advises. You never know what impact you're going to have on someone who is new to the sport. If you're an athletic Debbie Downer, what message does that send to those around you? No one wants to be around negative energy, so practice being positive.
7. Be Grateful
Local runner and triathlete Kathryn Cothern has had her ups and downs with injuries and nutrition issues. Needless to say, when she does have the opportunity to race, she doesn't take that gift for granted. "If you are fortunate enough to have good health, appreciate it and don't take it for granted. Even when you are having a bad day," she stresses. "When you've been on the sidelines, it gives you a very different perspective. Always appreciate that your body can do what it is doing."
8. Get the Heck Outta Dodge
Sick of chasing PR’s on the same courses year after year? Sometimes you just have to hit the road and change your scenery. Challenge yourself with something fun, new, and out of your comfort zone. Mix up your routine and find unique destination races. Turn it into a vacation. Ditch your PR goals. Take photos along the racecourse. Soak in the surroundings.