The Training Doctor Is In

By Carrie Barrett – March 1, 2014
photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

I'm reading a book called You Are a BadAss: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. I know, right? It had me at “badass!” We should all be reading this book!  

It's Monday morning and, for me, that means grabbing a cup of coffee, sitting down in front of the laptop, and reading through the weekend training updates of the athletes I coach. It's usually a mixed bag of emotion, from “I am a useless sack of poo” to “I should just get my pro card now because I am that good!”  Very rarely do I see the “workout completed as written with no drama” comment. That would just be so mundane, because—if I've learned anything at all—endurance training is anything but mundane.
Here is a smattering of comments I read just this morning via texts and emails from various athletes:

“I'm slowly feeling my power come back. My knees feel great. No crotch pain! Fun day today."

“My left shoulder was a little achy, but nothing a chiropractor, cross training, and a massage can't fix. I'm battling some junk in my chest, so breathing was OK until I stopped. Then, it was terribly difficult to breathe."

“Everyone was really supportive and nice, but it's a little embarrassing when everyone's waiting on you and you're f**king far behind. Guess I should stick to solo rides."

“Lower back started to ache at around mile 8. Also left hip muscles started to feel tight. Wonder if I'm lopsided.”
“Ran 8.5 yesterday at a 10:26 pace! Feel good today, too. Just need to keep hams stretched!”

“I was feeling so strong, and Wednesday night I woke up with some type of flu/stomach virus—throwing up all night and fever all day Thursday.”

“I soaked in an Epsom salt bath but I probably should have done an ice bath as well. I did Trigger Point therapy with a glass of wine. That's a thing, right?"

And my personal favorite:
"Snow day. Pool closed." Only in Austin.

Talk about a roller coaster of emotion…and that's just how I feel when I'm done reading those updates. From achy shoulders to not being able to breathe to sore crotches, I have heard and read it all. I reach for my second cup of coffee, hang up my Charlie Brown “The Doctor is In” sign, and prepare to respond with wisdom, patience, empathy, and, hopefully, a little sense of humor.

It's easy to send a virtual fist bump to an athlete who is on a roll and shout out “YOU FREAKING ROCK!” in all caps. (I'm a linguistic genius, I tell ya.) All of us need to be told we’re doing great and that we are on the right track. It feels good to feel good! Of course, I also use these good times to remind athletes to be grateful and rein it in.  “Bottle up this positive momentum for a rainy day,” I write, “because, as much as you hate to think about it, there will be a rainy day.”  (Yeah, I know. Coach Carrie, the wet blanket.) Trust me. I'm not a wet blanket; I'm an athlete. I know what it's like to feel good, and I know what it's like to go the extra mile because I feel good. I also know what it's like to type an article with an ice pack on your hip after you've gone that extra mile because you felt good.

Coaching athletes extends far beyond simply typing “10 x 1:00 minute fartleks, followed by 30 minutes in zone 2.” All of the heart rate, pacing, and power data in the world can't tell me how you feel. Quantitative data points are gems, but qualitative feedback is a big, fat, double-digit-carat diamond. Humorously, it reminds me of the recent TV remake of The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood. Judging by the ratings, a lot of people watched the show, but did a lot of people like it? Not so much. It was a quantitative victory for the night, but a qualitative failure—and it definitely was not a few of my favorite things (yes, I went there). All musical theater tangents aside, the same holds true for training. You may have done all 20 x 100s in the pool, but how did it feel? Were you sluggish and fatigued? Were your times consistent? Were you crossing over the centerline? Do your shoulders hurt? What learning experience can you take away from that session? The victory isn't always in doing the work. Real progress is made as a result of the workout.

I won't lie: Sometimes, this dialogue is hard for me to read. It's emotionally draining. I want to be positive, but also realistic. There's a fine balance between giving out high-fives and tough love, and sometimes reading between the lines of the feedback is the most important dialogue of all. Is discomfort and fatigue a natural byproduct of a tough week, or is it the beginning of illness or burnout? Is the athlete’s tone different than usual? Is motivation waning and, if so, what steps can I take to help reignite the fire? These are all factors I consider before I reply to an athlete who is having a tough day.

As you train for your races this year, I highly encourage you to keep a journal or training log to track your workouts and training trends. Go beyond the basic “I ran 10 miles in 90 minutes” entry. Keep track of the qualitative data and begin to notice your own trends. Working with a coach or accountability partner will help you be the best possible athlete you can be because, when I put down my coffee cup, take down my “Doctor is In” sign, and close my laptop, I know I've been the best coach I can be.

Coach Carrie's Training Log Tips

1) Keep track of your moods before, during, and after your training session.
2) Note your sleep quality as it pertains to training. If you are feeling sluggish and have poor sleep quality, it may be time for a few rest days.
3) Am I sore or in any pain as a result of this workout?
4) What positive lesson can I take away from today?
5) How was my nutrition/hydration intake today? (You may keep a separate food log.)
6) What are my motivations for training? Why am I signed up for this event?

Download the entire Rookie Tri or Lifetime Tri: CapTex training program on Training Peaks at


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