Life is a grindstone, and whether it grinds a man down or polishes him up depends on the stuff he’s made of.
–Josh Billings

I had three seperate conversations with three different athletes last week that all seemed to revolve around difficulty in training or performance.  No one was complaining, just relaying back information to me as we talked about progress.  I know that the elements, fatigue and mental doubts can all take a toll on a training ride, run or swim.  I also know these play an intgegral part in becoming a better athlete.

For the most part, if we are in training, we have an end goal.  And its even more likely that we spend months training for that goal which can last anywhere from an hour to 17 hours or more.  I try hard as a coach to deliver training programs that will physically prepare atheletes for the demands of the race but I need opportunities like the ones I had last week to help train the athlete’s mind.  We all know there are good training days and not-so-good training days and really, really bad training days.  What you do on each of those days will impact your race (and your life).

On the good days, enjoy the  feeling of a workout well done.  Rejoice in your boyd’s ability to take on the task at hand.  Record what might have lead to the good result: were you well rested; did you get your nutrition correct; did you plan the space in your day to accomodate the work out; have you been consistent in your workouts and are you now reaping the benefts?  Think about these and what you can replicate going forward for more postive results.

On the not-so-good days, be thankful for the workout and the ability to push yourself to your limit. Also think about what wasn’t so good and take stock in the same items as before to see if there are modifications you can make, like get more sleep, plan your workout day differently, alter nutrition.  Sometimes we might be tired from lack of sufficient sleep and yet feel like we should perform the workout the same as we would if we were well rested, when in reality, that might have been the best workout you could have done on that particular day.  Think about it, make notes and then move on.  If you find that time after time you are unable to get a good workout in, you might need to talk to your coach about the possibility of overtraining, a common condition where you can no longer reach peak performance because your body is not able to recover from previous workouts.

And then there are the really, really bad training days.  They stink.  It’s sometimes hard to get out the door, they are a mental battle all the way through and even if you complete the workout, you still feel lousy and wonder “what is wrong with me” or  “I’ll never be able to complete my race”.  While having these workouts can feel like the worst thing every, there is A LOT to be gained by this kind of workout.

In the world of endurance sports, you are alone in your race.  Yes, you might be joined by friends or teammates and surrounded by thousands, but more than likely you will be relying on your own thoughts and mental chatter during the race.  What you think to yourself throughout the race is so critical.  Are you a cheerleader or are you a doubter?  Are you feeling the pain and wondering if you can make it or are you feeling the pain and able to keep your thoughts positive?  If you have never had one of those really, really bad training days, you might never get the chance to practice mental training.  And I mean really practice it.

I find having a mantra or some kind of language that you can call upon is key.  In my Ironman Lake Placid,  I told myself “there’s no place that I would rather be”.  When the pain crept in, or exhaustion took hold, I stopped the negative talk that started almost instantly in my head by saying “there is no place I would rather be”.  I brought myself back to the present, took a look at my surroundings, smiled for the gift of being exactly where I was and I moved on.  It is that instant switch to take you from negative to postive that you can practice on those really bad days.  And yes, you might have to do this OVER and OVER and OVER again on a single workout, particularly the really tough ones.  But this practice will allow you to find what phrase or thought works for you and allow it to become second nature so that on race day, you will be able to keep that positive mental chatter throughout the race.

So be thankful for the good workouts, and the not-so-good, and the really, really bad ones.  Each one makes you a stronger person, athlete and competitor.