Endurance Sport Success in a Numbers-Driven Culture

Here's your workout for the day: "8x1km, work-down." You, the athlete, asks, "work-down?" Coach says, "yup, work-down. See what you can do." 

How would you go about interpreting this workout? How would you go about executing this workout? Are you and your coach in sync with the intention of the workout? Can you get after it or do you need more guidance?

Let's take the same workout format but this time the instructions are: "8x1km with #8 being as fast or faster than #1." This prescription may pose pace management considerations and clarification of the term "fast".

And finally, a third example of the same format: "8x1km - even pacing for each kilometre. Find fast flow. Short rest. Shut it down after 8." To some athletes, this might read like a foreign language. Where are pace targets and recovery intervals? What if you feel you can do 10 reps? How will you explain flow on Strava? 

Since the respective outcome of each session above tells a story, defining whether a workout was successful or not is a complex formula especially when we live in a culture driven by metrics, social media and more is better.  We like to reference faster paces, more watts, and higher volume as true measures of progress worth reporting. We fail to give credit to softer parameters such as flow, recovery, feel or mechanical efficiency.  While metrics offer a very small piece of the puzzle, they give little insight into the human side of effort. 

So what is the secret to finding success in training when we sidestep the data to bond more with feeling, intention, and purpose? How does one report on these parameters? What role does the coach have to articulate intention, mindset and theme of a workout? Athletes that take the time to reflect on a wider view of training objectives will discover that good workouts are often a result of intention and effort vs. winning Strava segments and Training Peaks color coding and medals. 

Would it surprise you to learn that a good workout doesn't always mean completing the workout as exactly written? Or exceeding the prescription? Or that training is a form of practice? Good workouts are the results of taking hold of the intention and giving best efforts relative to the prescription.  Maybe read that sentence again...good workouts are the results of taking hold of the intention and giving best efforts relative to the prescription. Athletes often bump against a wall before they understand that failing a workout helped them eventually succeed. In simplistic terms: Interpretation and objectives matter. Process matters.

The thing about making a practice of training (aka: living) is that your practice spills over into everything you do, whether you're racing or giving a presentation or writing or coaching or running or operating or working in a spreadsheet or parenting. Workout greatness doesn't come from a few heroic efforts. It comes from showing up and being good enough day in and day out over a long period of time. This mindset lessens the risk of injury-emotional and physical-since there isn't a perceived need to put forth heroic efforts every day. The result is more consistent performance that compounds over time. Research shows that sustainable progress, in everything from diet to fitness to creativity, isn't about being consistently great; it's about being great at being consistent. It's about being good enough over and over again. This is why showing up at workouts and taking a long view are two really important inputs to growth and great performance. 

Focus on the process more than results.

Big goals serve as a wonderful motivational tool. But oftentimes we place far too much emphasis on whether or not we achieve a specific goal and not enough emphasis on executing the incremental steps along the way. Adopting a process mind-set means that you set a goal, figure out the steps to achieving that goal that are within your control, and then mostly forget about the goal and focus on nailing the steps instead. It also says that you should judge yourself less on whether or not you accomplished your goal and more on whether or not you executed the process along the way.

A process mind-set ensures that your self-worth never hinges on events that are outside of your control (e.g., you get a flat tire in your first big bike race) and thus increases your stamina and ability to bounce back from failure: something that in and of itself is key to long-term success. It also helps keep your passions "harmonious," or driven predominantly by intrinsic motivation, versus "obsessive," which is all about external results and validation. Whereas harmonious passion is linked to sustainable performance and life satisfaction, obsessive passion is linked to anxiety and burnout.

The following 5 markers of success will help you connect with what matters most in the conscious absence of external validation:

1.         Know the purpose of training sessions and set intentions. 

2.         Reference feel & cognitive alertness in conjunction with metrics.

3.         Consider recovery as a marker of sustainability.

4.         Acknowledge unconscious competence when training.

5.         Honour your ability to train day after day, week after week, year after year. 

6.         Glorify progress by long-term health and enjoyment in the sport.

7.         Use a well-developed and honed library of efforts in everything you do.

8.         Test boundaries and respect your limits.

9.         Know Thy Self. 

10.       Own failure, take risk, be playful, develop community, connect to feel. 

Far too often we operate in a time or performance framework. We judge training session based on whether we swam, rode or ran faster than was written on the paper. How we operate and define success has a direct impact on how we operate in all areas of our lives. Embrace process of being the best athlete you can be on the day and in the moment. Let of fear of failing and judgement. Find your greatness in everything, including sometimes, numbers.

Christine Fletcher

Brite Coaching, www.brite.coach