So while I am not a certified coach, running guru or bike genius with alien antennae coming out of my head to receive instruction from the Athletic Cosmos, there are a few things I can share with all of you that have produced genuine results over the years.
I’ll share this honest-to-goodness advice in something of a reverse order. That is, in reverse chronological order to how it has been learned. That way, readers of all ages can appreciate and use this common sense stuff for their own best purposes.
So here goes. 10 Honest-To-Goodness tips on how to get better as a runner, rider or swimmer.
10. Do strength work without fail.
There is no more important injury prevention and performance-enhancing activity than strength work. For the legs use leg presses, hamstring curls, squats and lunges. For the core use planks, leg lifts (get coaching on this) and oblique twists. For the shoulders and arms use presses, curls, lat pulls and pushups. That’s 9-10 exercises, and that all it takes to balance your body. Do it year-round at least twice a week.
9. Diversify your training.
Early in life while playing multiple sports the diversity needed to keep body balance and tendon strength came from doing multiple sports like basketball, soccer and tennis. But lacking an ACL later in life, that balance has had to come from a combination of weight training and choosing alternate activities such as cycling to gain the same aerobic and proprioceptor benefits. Cycling and swimming happen to go right along with running. It’s not rocket science, just honest-to-goodness common sense. Diversification works to your benefit. Cross training, they call it.
8. Go your own way and pace.
The more you train and the longer you go, the more important it can be at times to step away from competitive situations and go the pace you need to go. Often that means slower, or more methodically in any case. Taking your easy training days easy, or even racing…without worrying about going outside your target pace on a given day is the way to make sound progress without running into a wall of your own making.
7. Let the joy of competing be the center of your motivation.
It’s always nice to get good results like winning your age group, but that only tends to happen when you’re already enjoying the effort. Going into a race where you’ve determined ahead of time that you’re going to be a failure if you don’t place in the top three in your age category…or in the Top 10 overall…sounds like a good goal-setting strategy. But it can also serve as a means of setting yourself up for failure. Better to run or ride or swim with your best performance level in mind and see what that gets you. Focusing on performance over results also allows you to transition if one aspect of your race or training effort does not go as planned. Sometimes you can make up the difference and not freak out.
6. Understand the nature of your achievements.
Setting goals often means assessing the time you have available to achieve them. When you set out to do a big event, it often means balancing or sacrificing other things to do the training and racing necessary to reach that goal. At all levels of your career, from middle school all the way up to Senior or Master’s racing, that balance comes from self-awareness and recognizing the nature of your achievements. Tremendous benefit and feelings of self-satisfaction emanate from this transfer of excellence. Working hard to achieve a goal can lend all kinds of good mental and physical skills to other priorities in life. Athletes need to understand the nature of their achievements in order to fully benefit from the life-enhancing qualities of their endeavors. Setting a PR or completing an endurance challenge generally means you did things right, but all of us (even pro athletes) compete in a context.
5. Make a plan, then experiment.
In the best year of my running career, I mapped out a plan of racing 20 times at distances from 5K to 25k. But as the racing season progressed, I jumped in a couple extra races to accomplish two things: to fulfill sponsor commitments and also to push my racing chops to new levels. One such experiment involved racing a competitive mile the night before a 10k. I won the mile in 4:22 and felt fluid and smooth. By contrast that next day’s pace of 5:00 per mile felt like a jog. The experiment worked.
4. Let your competition pull you along.
It is easy to view your competitors as your enemies. But truly they are often your greatest friends. Without people to run or ride or swim against, we are prone to not going our hardest. But don’t let falling behind freak you out. Everyone has ups and downs within a race. So when someone pulls ahead don’t assume they’ve won or that you’re finished. Use them to pull you along. It works with teammates when they pull you along. You should adopt the same attitude in competing with rivals. In the long run, they’re your real friends. That’s one of the tarsnakes of competition.
3. Let discipline into your heart.
One of the earliest lessons we learn as athletes is that sacrifices such as getting out of bed at ungodly hours is often necessary to train and compete. But rather than view this as a chore, let discipline into your heart as a sign that you love life and want to make it interesting, even challenging. That way the bedtime of 9:30 and the alarm clock at 5:30 feel less like a sacrifice than a purpose for living. And with that commitment comes the obligation not to whine or complain. Yes, you can joke about the difficulty and even commiserate a bit. But be careful not to poison the moment and purpose for others, lest you become the one they do not want to join for workouts or races.
2. Learn what it takes to succeed.
Young athletes often have a vision of how success comes about, and it is often not engaged with reality. Yet watching great athletes and what they do to succeed teaches much. Those workouts of 30 X 300 meters that my teammate from high school did to achieve his state record 1:49 half mile were far harder than anything I could imagine myself doing at the time. And I wasn’t a slouch, but not a state-level competitor either. Later on in college and beyond I learned to push myself beyond what my high school mind could conceive possible. We all mature at different rates, and when we age, we retain instincts for success and competition at varied rates as well. There are no super secrets here. It is all about attitude and learning, through hard work, experimentation and dedication. That’s what it takes to succeed at any age. Yes, you’ll run into limits sometimes, but that just means you’re still learning.
1. Try new things before you lock into one sport or pattern.
In our early athletic endeavors, when we’re trying all sorts of sports as I did, life is almost dizzying with all its options. Then you’re asked to choose and commit and dedicate yourself without question. For some athletes, that means burnout and the end of competition at all. In may case I did not choose running, but it did choose me. Something about it cleaned out my brain, reduced anxiety and I thrilled at the thought and feel of running often, and running well. Not all my teammates felt the same way. Some hated running but still did it.
By college that choice was more profound, and beyond college on the roads I found nothing but people who did the sport because they enjoyed it. Adding cycling to my fitness choices more than a decade ago has been a blessing. Now swimming is filling out the platform for lifelong fitness too. And because they all compliment each other, success has come with it. So even as we “lock into” one sport or another we can find ways over a lifetime to diversify and enhance our experiences. That means new events, new routines and a healthier attitude about life in general. Sometimes that even means taking a break from the sports you love. Explore other things. Take a walk in the woods. You will not be ruined if you step back to consider what you do what you do. You may discover new love for life in general.
And that’s an honest-to-goodness feeling.
Be sure to share this blog to your Social Media friends!