So what is the secret to finding success in training when we sidestep the data to bond more with feeling, intention, and purpose?
If ever there was an unsung hero, Britni Bakk would be one. Britni is our sports most humble legend banking well over 40 Ironman races, 12 of which in Kona, Hawaii. While she doesn't sing her praises on social media nor seek public attention, she thrives on sharing knowledge and coaching athletes to their own best self and tapping deep into their emotional, mental and physical potential.
Already we are into the thick of race season and thus brings more specific training as each of you prepare for your big 2018 goals. Even though the ground work has been laid in the winter, now is the time to bring it together, translate the training to racing, maintain self discipline (more on this below), maintain a high level of ‘desire to train’, and define execution for your key events. As race reports flow in or coaches meet one on one with athletes about upcoming races, the narrative evolves towards execution and best efforts.
Sometimes when I ask an athlete “what’s your execute a plan?” they glare back like a deer in headlights. I too delivered a first-class glare before understanding what a) a successful day meant to me b) what the term execution even meant.
So let’s talk about execution.
Let me just say this, if an athlete decides to execute the plan, I mean really follow through, a good day almost always presents itself. Optimum execution can be a complex concept to play out effectively because so many factors can influence a long race (some controllable, some not) and for some a long day can be 14, 16, 24 hours+. I don’t need to tell you guys that the margin of error grows with every passing hour. Nonetheless, the formula to success is the combination of a million good decisions with as many executable factors as possible. The sum of these two factors almost always net out a great result.
Make a lot of good decisions + set and execute upon achievable targets = successful execution.
What about all these decisions to be made? What about external forces? How does one remember everything they set out to do in the plan? The best execution plans stem from a somewhat simple outline. Too many complex details packed into one plan can derail your ability to execute simply because you have too many things to think about. Athletes use all kinds of tricks to remind themselves when to eat, when to drink, how to feel, who to thank (pictures of their kids on top tube!), what pace to ride/run, where their bike is racked, what direction to go, etc. As we tire, the more reminders we may need. Optimum execution takes planning and lots of it. It starts early in the process, it takes practice, it takes time away from your day to sit down and write it out, visualize it, create the framework then make sure it is possible. Create techniques that work for you and watch what others do. Over the years I have observed and learned from so many athletes - I adopt and adjust their ideas to work for me. On the rare occasion, I make up my own trick. Brite Coach Britni Bakk has taught me more tricks of the trade then she will ever know!
The other aspect of embracing and owning race execution is to practice it and simulate it in training sessions. Practicing your execution in training allows you to process decisions, visualize the sequence and plot fuelling or gear or hydration or pacing. Come race day, it’s just a matter of doing what you already know how to do with a few other people around to bring out the best in you.
Consider this “execution” mindset for your next event:
Focus on OUT-EXECUTING your competitors or peers around you. If you are the one athlete that remains focused, holds attention on the task at hand and sets out to do what you planned to do, you will guarantee yourself a great outcome. If you focus on out-executing everyone around you, you will rise to the surface simply by committing to execution. The trick is to apply your plan in action. Anyone can write out a plan, create lists and set intentions but the magic happens when the plan is applied in the field when critical decisions need to be made. So few actually do this. It is all too easy to go off plan. It’s much harder to stay the course, persevere and carry through with your execution plan especially when unforeseen forces are driving you to give up and give in. Those who do execute always have a great race.
Where Does Discipline Comes From?
On the heels of execution, I wanted to also touch on discipline since this too is a reoccurring theme in recent discussions and observations in training logs and athlete feedback.
On occasion, I notice athletes seeking external discipline to help carry their training especially at this time of year when training gets specific, longer and more interruptive of life. If you signed up for a race or event, you experienced a moment of commitment to a goal. The goal was in the future and the consequences of your commitment did not seep in quite yet. As days, weeks, and months rolled on, you started to notice how this commitment had consequences to your usual schedule. That volleyball game you play on Sundays is now bumping up against a planned ride. How’s this going to work?
If you are one of those athletes that easily flips the switch, gets onboard and structures your life to accommodate new training time with work, kids, family and many one hobby then you likely understand where discipline comes from. If you are someone that is bumping up against a new training load or how to “get it all in” or creating a new normal for yourself, then maybe discipline is a trait yet to be developed. Either way, everyone, including myself, can use a reminder about where discipline comes from.
Discipline comes from within. Discipline is an internal force. Sure, you can have discipline imposed on you by another person, a coach or a self help guru but the reality is none of them will give you real discipline.
External discipline is not strong. It will not survive. It will not stand on its own. Self discipline, as the very term implies, comes from self…from within you. It comes from an internal decision to be better. If you don’t think you are disciplined it is because you haven’t yet decided to be. You haven’t created it yet. You haven’t become it yet. To become disciplined you have to make a decision and commitment. You must embrace it’s relentless power and become it. Discipline, in my experience, will make athletes better, stronger, faster, than anything else. When an athletes doesn’t want to get up early on a weekend to ride, that’s discipline playing a hand. When an athlete would rather do other things but then later regret that decisions because they could have done it, that again is discipline playing them.
And yes, if it were easy to have self discipline it wouldn’t be such a unique, practicable and improve-able trait. To get up early, to get it done and to get the training in is what you signed up for when you paid the money for that race. The process is not all unicorns and rainbows once you sign up for the event. Athletes don’t magically create themselves into the event: they have to do the work and put in the hours. No one, there is not one single except, is unique to this requirement.
The glory of finishing, completing and accomplishing something you signed up for is a direct result of the work you put in, the discipline you showed and the commitment towards that discipline. What’s not so shocking to anyone is that discipline is a common thread through everything - if it shows up in our athletic life and training endeavours, it shows up in other aspects of our lives. We can use athletics and sport to practice a renewed commitment to being self disciplined. Every day we have a choice. Every day we get to renew our commitment. Every day we get to practice disciplined from within.
FOCUS CONSTANTLY ON GETTING BETTER
When athletes or "performers" focus on constantly getting better - be it through global health, relationships, nutrition, training, mindfulness or engaging both the internal an external worlds, one common thread is the journey has no end. The journey is constant, the goal is the path and the path is the goal. Below is an adapted list of 15 practices offered by author and expert in health and human performance, Brad Stulberg, on the path towards growth and development.
Stress is a stimulus for growth. Without stress living organisms don't adapt, don't change. So you need stress. But stress is only beneficial in the right dose and when you have the capacity, resources, and support to absorb it. And stress is only valuable when it's followed by rest.
The space during which growth occurs. Without rest, we stand no chance at absorbing and growing from challenges we face. If you want to develop your body, mind, or soul you've got to understand that rest - that simply "being" - is every bit as important as doing.
Health is multidimensional. It is physical and mental and emotional and spiritual. It is also integral to lasting progress. It is true that you can burn "brite" for a while without a foundation of health, but keep existing in this way and eventually you'll burnout. Sacrificing health is myopic. The long-game requires it.
Research shows that the people with whom you surround yourself influence your performance and wellbeing by up to 30 percent. When things are going well community pushes you and celebrates you and keeps you grounded. When things aren't going well a tribe of support is everything.
A coach is there to see what you don't see and to point you in the direction of growth. The best coaching relationships are rooted in shared humility and caring. A good coach doesn't just show or tell. They walk with with you on your path - sometimes leading and sometimes following.
Show up, even when you don't want to. Doing so makes you better not only at your craft - via compounding gains - but also at the skill of exerting effort itself. The path of mastery isn't about being consistently great. It's about being great at being consistent.
In many ways, presence is synonymous with peak performance. When you are fully there - completely immersed in your pursuit with concentrated attention - you are almost always at your best. Practicing presence leads to a better body of work and a richer, more textured life.
If you really care about what you do you'll put your all into it. If you really care about the people with whom you interact you'll put your all into them. Caring serves as the cutting edge of personal and social evolution. Caring is quality. Caring is love. You've got to care.
Once you think you know you cease to keep knowing. Once you think you're good you cease to keep getting better. But there is always more to know. Always room to get better. Without humility there can be no growth.
It's knowing, based on a body of evidence, what you can and can't do, and then moving forward accordingly. Confidence isn't something that you have or you don't. It's not something you're born with. Confidence is something you build.
Drive means relentless pursuit. Often born out of insecurity, at its best it's fuelled by love. Drive must be channelled. It can be productive and beautiful and enlarging when pointed toward growth and development. It can be destructive and diminishing when pointed at external validation. The best drive comes from the inside.
Patience is letting things happen instead of making them happen. Not to be confused with passivity, patience is about persistence. Gentle persistence. It's about surrendering to a process and being present as it unfolds. Staying on the path of mastery in any endeavour requires patience.
Toughness is about doing the hard thing because it's the right thing. Sometimes this means putting your head down and grinding it out. Other times this means backing off and asking for help. Toughness lives on the inside. The people who don't act tough are generally the toughest of all.
You've got to be honest - and okay - with yourself. Acceptance does not mean doing nothing but rather acknowledging and starting where you are. Not where you think you should be. Not where you want to be. Where you are. Because if you don't start where you are, you'll never really get anywhere.
Vulnerability starts with being honest with yourself. Why are you doing what you're doing? What are you seeking? What could you be doing better? Are you open to receiving help? Answering these questions - being vulnerable - is uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable leads to growth.