This is the annual “Best of” issue, so it only seems appropriate to kick off my first column of the year by writing about being your best. But what the heck does that mean, anyway? I'm not talking about how to be the best—I’m not Oprah, after all—I’m writing about how to be your best. Wait. Maybe I am Oprah.
Since it's the beginning of the year, many of you are planning your event and race calendars, and you're gung-ho about goal setting. Whether you are considering entering the world of endurance sports or are already a seasoned athlete preparing for a more significant investment, this is still the time of year that you look ahead and ask, “Just how far can I go? What race distance will optimize my success?” I have this conversation so often with my clients that I actually published my first e-book on the topic. While I wrote my book with triathlon in mind, the concepts and tips apply to nearly all activities.
Physical fitness and ability is only one consideration when deciding which distance is right for you, especially as you contemplate longer distances. Consider, too, your financial resources, available training time, location, course elevation, physical strengths, weaknesses, and long-term goals; these all are important items that should influence your distance decision. In general, the longer the race, the higher the cost. Part of becoming the best you can be involves a long, hard look in the mirror and some self-evaluation.
Here are just a few factors to consider when deciding which race distance will promote your best performance.
What's my motivation to train?
Know your list of “whys,” because you will refer to it often when you feel unmotivated, apathetic, and tired (trust me, you will). I encourage my athletes to write down a “why” every day so that they always have an extensive list of reasons. The more personal your motivation, the better your chance at success. Be as detailed as possible because the more you can express your feelings, the more you'll be willing to put into achieving your goals.
Does my family/work support my goals?
This one goes a long way in determining which distance you should race because it often dictates how long you'll be away from home. Often overlooked, the cost to family and work life is just as important to consider as any financial cost. Is your family or employer on board with your goals? Do they feel resentful or neglected when you're training? Does training make you a better spouse/parent, or does it drain you of the energy to be present for them? If your family is busy with their own activities, consider keeping your distances shorter and your training time to a minimum. Those are precious hours you will never get back. Similarly, involve your family as much as possible with your training. Plot out your schedule together and plan “training getaways” together. Also, be creative and pick family-friendly course venues. Turn your race into a vacation for them.
Do I have good time management skills?
If you don't cope well with stressful situations or multi-tasking, stick with shorter races that don't involve as much juggling. As my husband likes to say, “I train to relieve stress in my life, not create it.” Feel like your training schedule puts you on the verge of a mental and emotional meltdown? Relax and cut back. Even if you have to move your race to a more advantageous time, rest assured that endurance events are not going away any time soon. When you're spinning work, family, social, and training plates, one of them is bound to crash if you're not in balance.
What are my physical strengths and weaknesses?
It's vital to know as much as you can about your current level of health and fitness in order to have the best training and race day experience. I certainly recommend a comprehensive work-up from a doctor prior to starting any training regime. Know your family history and take any necessary precautions to protect your health. You may also choose to work with a registered dietitian if weight loss and optimal body composition is a goal.
Be honest with yourself about your aptitude and experience level. If you're afraid to put your face in the water of a pool, don't sign up for an Ironman with an ocean swim. Make it a long-term goal, and stick with shorter distances until your confidence grows. If cycling power is a weakness, spend a season or two working on strength. Hire a coach who will balance your schedule as you work on your weaknesses and improve your strengths.
Ultimately, check your ego at the door and be open to learning new skill sets. Efficient and smart training alleviates a lot of the fatigue, injury and burnout that can occur in endurance sports when people attempt to go too long, too fast.
For many, just crossing the finish line of a race can provide a lifetime of pride. Some feel the urge to go long. Others prefer the speed and power of short distance races. As you go about your distance decision process, continually ask yourself the questions outlined to make sure you remain aligned with your purpose. Most importantly, make sure to have fun and enjoy the journey to being your best.