Tuesday, January 27, 2015

That Wonderful Feeling

You know how it goes. You find your next big challenge, something that seems so daunting, so exhilarating, so necessary, that you know you won't be able to live with yourself if you don't at least try. And then you want to throw up. Congratulations. You have a goal. It doesn't matter whether that goal is finishing a 5k, racing an Ironman, or taking your pro card, if it doesn't scare you a bit, you aren't being bold enough.

You know you want to.

Maybe because it's the new year, or some of my friends and family are approaching milestone birthdays, or they are just awesome, but several people have asked me lately about how to take the leap into swimming, biking, and/or running. With these next few blog posts, I hope to answer some questions, solicit additional tips from my awesome athlete readers (hi, Dad!), and maybe inspire a few more people to smile and then run for a trash can.

First things first: if your BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) involves physical activity, make sure you're up for it. This isn't just a legal disclaimer about talking to your doctor, but really think about all aspects of your life. Are you trying to train for an Ironman while working full time, moving cross country, and finding the love of your life? It's possible but tread carefully. When you consider a workout plan, remember it's not like you can go for a long bike ride or run and then go about your day; you also need to prep for the training (bike maintenance, gathering an obscene amount of nutrition bars, gels, drinks, etc.), and recover from it (food, sleep, and oh so much laundry). So magically, a six hour training session takes 10 hours out of your day. The math still applies to shorter events: add around 25% to your expected training schedule and plan accordingly. The upshot is you'll discover how efficient you can become with other aspects of your life, prioritize what really matters to you, and appreciate the value of a good calendar.

This could be you!

Ok, so you've decided that you are physically and mentally up to the task. Next: specify your goal. Maybe it's completing a particular race, hitting a time or distance, or reaching the podium. But you need to be brave enough to write it down and, in the case of a race, put your entry fee where your mouth is. Get that sucker on your calendar so you don't forget, and don't let it sell out while you waffle. Some people like to shout their goals from the social media rooftops and some prefer to stay on the down low. Still, it's worth telling at least one person so you have a cheerleader in your corner. If you're into writing, the Believe journal is excellent; each week it prompts you to think about your goals and record your progress.

Think process. This is especially true if your BHAG is somewhat out of your control, like achieving a certain time (what if it's windy?) or placement (what if faster people show up?). You should also create process-related goals that you alone can control, such as completing at least 90% of scheduled workouts in a month, hydrating properly, or participating in an open water practice swim. This post from QT2 (free login) explains this concept well. These seem less glamorous but really make the difference between achieving your BHAG and getting discouraged and distracted.

Solo or group? Do you want to train alone, with a buddy, or a group? Do you need a training plan? A private coach? The magic answer is... "it depends" (yeah, boooo, sorry). You'll learn a lot about yourself during this process. Does training with a group push or intimidate you? Do you need ultimate flexibility or structure? Can you hold yourself accountable or do you need to pay someone to keep tabs on you? Or you can try all of the above and see what works. For example, you could download a training plan (e.g. from Training Peaks or there are plenty of plans of varying quality floating around the Interwebs), do some workouts with a masters group or run club (more on these in future posts), and share your workouts via Strava to receive kudos from friends.

Have a support system. Check in regularly with family, friends, co-workers, teammates, randos on the bus, etc. and share your progress, your frustrations, your awkward questions about chafing. People who have been around the track a few times are always happy to offer advice (says the author of a blog post on the topic) because back in our day, when we were biking uphill in the snow, we also had questions about pacing, or nutrition, or snot rockets. My friend (and Rose PT therapist) Holli and I still nerd out over articles on heart rate zones and core exercises. Athletes are amazingly supportive of each other. Case in point: twitter is hopping at 5 AM as triathletes are biking on their indoor trainers. Join us!

Prepare to fail...just a little. No one is perfect. But what makes all the difference is your ability to not get derailed when things go off track. How to do this? Start planning to fail now. From the comfort of your couch, metro seat, boring meeting, etc. make a list of obstacles you may face and how you will deal with them. For example, "If I'm supposed to go for a bike ride and it's pouring rain, I'll take a spin class instead." or "If I work late and don't have time for a run, I'll power walk down the hallway for 15 minutes." By deciding ahead of time how you'll make good decisions, you're far more likely to follow through than if you're working late, it's cold and rainy, and the latest episode of Parks and Rec is on. Channel your inner Tim Gunn and make it work.

Things didn't go according to plan?

So. Now are you excited to start making swim/bike/run magic? Excellent. Tune in next time...

Oh the places you'll go...