I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that most of us probably don’t like having flaws uncovered in the moment they are being uncovered. We are hard enough on ourselves as it is in the world of endurance sports. We certainly don’t need to have any kind of light being shone on our flaws, or weaknesses, cracks, or limitations! But here it is: these are exactly the slivers of enlightenment that we need to never stop growing and constantly keep improving. These cracks, flaws, and limitations exist for a reason. They exist because they keep us human and constantly seeking out the best we can be, never becoming complacent in the moment!
Here is why I’m writing this article: I’m learning through both my coaching and my own athletic journey that we must first ACCEPT reality to move to the next level. But—and here is the hard part!!!—we must accept that reality without any judgment on ourselves. Reality must be accepted exactly as it is, as a moment in time. And then, if we can quiet our minds in that moment, we can see what potentials lie ahead.
So before I sound too terribly kooky with all of this, let me put these thoughts into some black and white tangibles, by sharing a few anecdotes here:
- With our new CompuTrainer software, we’ve got this nifty little status bar that glows green, red, yellow or blue in any given moment letting each rider know exactly how close to the mark they are for themselves. With our previous software, most riders had no problems hitting the numbers on their hard efforts. But, the big “reality ah-ha” for many riders now, has been the realization that they have not been allowing themselves the true recovery time they’ve needed between harder efforts! Now, with a status bar shining brightly before each rider, they know if they are truly hitting their hard efforts, but more importantly, if they are realistically recovering as they should be, in between! Reality = recognizing and attending to, our bodies’ needs for recovery!
- Almost every part of my body has been MRI’d at some point in the past seven years, due to any number of wonky things going on in my infrastructure (or due to bike crashes, or other fun stuff like that.) I’ve had to sit out one too many races due to herniated or bulging discs, impinged nerves or torn muscles. Each time an injury has happened, it’s sucked. But each injury has made me focus very seriously on my reality. WHAT caused the injuries. WHAT could I have done differently. WHAT could I do to help prevent them from happening again? Reality = not giving up when an injury sidelines us, but rather using the injury to learn something about our body, about our recovery, about our infrastructure. I finally discovered that my reality necessitates using special orthotics in my run shoes to alleviate most of my issues. Had I thrown in the towel during any of my injuries, and just given up, I never would have learned that.
I’ve massaged, trained alongside, and coached, any given number of athletes who have been side-lined by an injury at some point in time. In every case, there’s been that moment of denial to the injury, acceptance of the injury, depression over having it, and then an awakening to the reality at hand. Reality says that sometimes we get injured, but if we can figure out how to learn from the injury, we end up so much better on the other end!
- I can’t speak for anyone else, but I CAN speak for myself in saying that I’ve often wanted to believe I can ride my bike at a certain threshold, or run at a certain pace. Mind over matter, right? Well here is how that has played out. When racing in Boulder this past summer, I had all sorts of UNrealistic thoughts and ideas. On every level. Personal and athletic. And the day ended exactly as I DIDN’T plan for it to end. Reality gave me a cold, hard slap to the face about halfway into my bike leg, and I had a moment of enlightenment that came at the price of ego, and overall reevaluation of why I do this sport. It is a day I will never forget, and a day where I had to truly learn to NOT judge myself, but rather to accept reality, and move forward with humility.
But from that acceptance of reality, I’ve seen and learned some pretty amazing things about myself, and therefore about others, that I never would have had the opportunity to otherwise!! Reality = things not always going the way we THINK they should, and being OKAY with that.
- I’ve got a few athletes for whom discovering—and ACCEPTING—realistic pacing in swimming, biking, and/or running has been an eye-opening challenge of sorts. Through many workouts, trials, and errors, we’ve finally determined realistic swim paces, bike thresholds, and run pacing for various distances. These discoveries only came about through an acceptance of reality—even when reality wasn’t what the heart wanted it to be in the moment. BUT by accepting reality, we’ve been able to truly establish a solid base and platform to build from. And now the improvements in pacing are genuine, true and controlled. Reality = non-judgmental acceptance of what we truly CAN do, and allowing ourselves to grow from there. Not images of where we think we should be, but rather, truthful acknowledgement of where we currently are. And being okay with that. From there, we can move forward with truthful effort!
- Another reality check. I went to my primary doctor this past summer because I just couldn’t figure out why I was gaining weight. I mean, I do love to eat. But I work out a lot! So shouldn’t that just pretty much negate things, as long as I’m still eating sensibly? Here’s what my doctor asked me when I told her my concern about gaining unexplained weight (I was convinced I had some kind of deep rooted tumor or something terribly wrong with me!): “Sarah, how many calories are you eating each day?” I answered, “Oh, somewhere around 2500, give or take a few. But I work out a LOT, burning at least 1000 calories a day!” (This was during the height of my summer training.) She looked at me with some disbelief, and just said, “Sarah, that is WAY too many calories! A calorie burned does NOT equal an extra calorie you can eat!” After I almost choked on my spit in disbelief and complete shock, I said, “Wait a second. So…..I can’t eat an extra 1000 calories worth of food, even if I’m burning it off with exercise?” And, very seriously, she answered “NO.” Dang it!
My reality check came hard and fast. My doctor figured out for me what amount of calories I CAN eat in any given day, based on my activity level and desired weight. And it was NOT what I wanted to hear or believe. And I’ve proceeded to test this out about 4 times now since summer. And every time, it stands true. I made an assumption and should not have done so. I could have checked in with ET Team Dietitian, Laurie Schubert, and learned this long before it became an issue for me.
Reality = sometimes learning things we don’t really want to learn. But, if we allow ourselves to accept these things, we can grow better because of them.
As we head into the next part of our training seasons, I’d like to encourage us all (this is a reminder to me, also!), to never run from reality or fear it, but rather to take a deep breath and accept it without any lasting judgment. Learn from it, find the opportunities for growth that are present in every moment. Reality is nothing more than an awareness of exactly where we are, in any given moment. And then, simply moving forward to the next moment with just a bit more enlightened knowledge about ourselves.
Sarah Farsalas is a certified USA Cycling coach, USA Triathlon coach and Licensed Massage Therapist with Experience Triathlon. Learn more about Coach Sarah, Experience Triathlon and Experience Massage at www.experiencetriathlon.com