Success Based Athletics By Gordo Byrn
Success Based Athletics
As you might know, I am a member of the Endurance Corner team based in Boulder. We are a specialized group that focuses on the components of ultradistance performance. One of the dangers of a performance focus is the risk of blinding one's self to the larger picture of personal success.
At the end of February, the EC Team (Alan, Justin, Mat, Monica, me) sat down and ran through our portfolio of athletes (15 clients between 5 team members). What we wanted to do was identify: our personal needs from the company; the needs of our clients; and hazards that could prevent us from achieving success. It was an interesting day. Our true needs are often far from the things that we spend most of our time worrying about.
Here are the four topics that most highly motivated triathletes spend their time working on: (a) time to train -- maximizing personal training load; (b) concern over a lack of support from their inner circle; (c) quantifying relative talent -- personal genetic potential; and (d) training information -- optimizing protocols. I suspect that 80% of the threads on the internet fall into one of these four categories. My inbox (and thought patterns) certainly follow that trend.
We share a desire to discuss and debate the above points -- ideally without the need for any personal compromise or change. I am rarely asked advice on the change required to achieve a goal. More typically, a set of existing constraints are laid out and I am asked what it takes to cram success into that box. What follows are some ideas about creating a bit more space within the constraints of your life situation. The recommendations are simple in nature but challenging in practice.
Sleep -- most athletes are sleep deprived in terms of quality, and quantity, of rest. Lack of sleep fundamentally impairs our ability to produce quality output (in training, at the office, at home). In order to sleep more, you need to remove something from your life. In the past I have focused on: television; movies; print media; alcohol; social gatherings; internet surfing. Periodically doing a personal time inventory can be interesting.
Nutrition -- food choice and meal timing are two of the most simple ways to improve the quality of our lives. It took me years to fully realize the drag that poor nutrition placed within my life. It is the rare person that admits, "I enjoy eating poorly and don't want to change". Rather, we rationalize a "need" to eat poorly due to social pressure and the desire to conform with clients and family. As a triathlete, we are already seen as freaks. Eating super healthy won't surprise your peers and high personal ethics have a surprising effect on the world around us. One of the few things that we truly control is the food that we choose to eat.
Stress -- as a coach, most of what I do is advise people how to reduce stress in their lives. My clients may not see it that way but it is where I tend to add the most value. Within our business, it is a paradox that our clients come to us with a desire to greatly increase their stress levels to become more successful. Our approach (a simple week repeated consistently) is designed to reduce client stress levels. There is an element of faith required to follow a moderate, consistent program for six to ten months -- a lot of folks prefer stress over success! Within my own life, I have often felt far more "secure" when I was constantly tipping myself over the edge. It was a self-limiting approach.
Training itself is a stressor and the most successful athletes tend to operate under their personal limits for the majority of the year. By spending time under their limits, they are able to REALLY push their limits when it counts. Mark Allen notes that most everyone at an Ironman start line is a bit overdone.
The weird thing for me is that it is a heck of a lot easier to "feel" when I am 5% overdone than 5% underdone. It is normal to be stalked by a fear of not doing enough so being chronically over-reached is an emotionally safe place to hang out. The months that we spend overtrained, injured or burnt out will never be returned to us.
The greatest benefit of leaving myself underscheduled is having room for new opportunity. When I am overloaded, I struggle to enjoy my current situation and don't have the ability to think strategically about how I am going to create/sustain the life that I want to lead. An overscheduled life has the "benefit" of many items to manage (it is a bit like chronic injury). Again, being "buried" is an emotionally easy place to live -- we convince ourselves that we are "working hard" but are we working smart?
These are some of the toughest issues that I have had to grapple with in my life. The desire to overschedule my life and complicate my mind requires constant trimming.