Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 4

Discipline, Training, Exercise

Starting is easy. Following the plan the whole way, that’s another matter entirely.

Discipline Practice 4 is the simplest of them all, but perhaps the most difficult to do.

Imagine a simple analogy:

You are planning a road trip to go see New York city. Three days before the date you had set, you decide not to wait, and leave immediately. You pack the car in a hurry, and forget to bring the camping gear you were hoping to use to save on motel rooms. Half-way to New York, you see a signpost for Philadelphia, and figure you have enough time, so you’ll go there as well. You spend a large amount of money on a hotel room you find very late at night because you’ve driven too far and are by then exhausted and can’t drive any farther.

The next morning you drive around Philly a bit and finally head towards New York. You get there to realize the main thing you wanted to see, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is closed, opening again only two days later (which would have been fine had you gotten to New York on the expected date). Having few other options, and to make yourself feel a bit better, you once again splurge on an expensive hotel, and the next morning drive back home, where you end up disappointed about your trip because you did not see what you really wanted to see, and spent way too much money…

I can’t put it any plainer than this:

Stick to the plan.

Yes, this one is really called “stick to the plan.”

This holds as much for training as for racing, though it is perhaps more noticeable in the latter case.

Whether you are training with the help of a coach or by yourself, you must have a plan for reaching better fitness. It can be a simple plan, like what No-brainer Fitness is recommending (moving more, on a daily basis), or it can be a detailed training regimen to reach some particular goal (like participating in an Ironman triathlon). No matter. A plan is a plan. Everybody makes them.

You don’t need to be a project manager to understand the proper way to plan for something.

  • Step 1: First, you figure what your objectives are, and where you currently are with respect to those objectives. This allows you to figure-out what is missing, and thus what needs to be done.
  • Step 2: Then you make a detailed, phased approach, a Plan, for bridging the gap.
  • Step 3: Next, you execute the Plan. You do what was planned, step by step, day by day.
  • Step 4: Finally, after the conclusion of the Plan (your fitness event, race, or simply the end of the season of activities), you review the results, and assess whether anything needs to be done better next time.

Because there is always a next time: another season, another event, another goal.

The same holds true for a race plan, but in much more condensed form. You have a goal, there is a starting line; you race, following an established plan, and then you cross the finish line. Whether you cross it after the expected amount of time depends in large part on your training, but also on how well you followed the plan for the race itself.

But here’s what almost invariably happens: at some point, perhaps on many occasions during the execution of the plan, you diverge from what the plan said.

This could be during a training session in which you decide to do something different (typically, more, or simply completely different training), or during a preparatory event, when you decide you feel really good and will go full out instead of keeping the planned pace. Or during the race, where you go too fast, too soon, because you are really excited and think you can do better than planned.

You’ve gone through Step 1 and Step 2, but then you don’t follow Step 3 properly, often leading to a lesser result than hoped for. And when you get to Step 4, lots of reasons can be found to explain what happened (a.k.a. excuses), but seldom do you recall that Step 3 was not followed properly. And you may even blame the Plan itself, or the coach, when in fact it was your Step 3 that was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having some flexibility with respect to following plans. In particular when listening to your body clamoring for rest, or having to deal with unexpected conditions like the weather or unforeseen family obligations.

And perhaps the Plan was not a good one, or not good enough.

But here’s the thing: If you don’t follow the Plan as closely as possible, you cannot claim that it is not a Good Plan. And you don’t really know how to make it any better.

In training and exercising just like in life in general, we’re supposed to keep learning. Or at least avoid making the same mistakes more than twice (see how much leeway I give us?). The planning process is there to facilitate that learning.

But the only way it works is if you have the discipline to stick to the plan.

Picture from Pixabay.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 2

Exercise, Everyday, Discipline, Motivation, Purpose

Get moving, keep on moving, and celebrate your accomplishments. But curb your enthusiasm, or risk seeing it all come crashing down.

As I’ve explained before, discipline is what most folks erroneously think of as the means to stick to an exercise routine (and/or dieting plan). That’s the militaristic, stick-in-the-mud view of what it takes to be fit and healthy.

What you require, in fact, to get fit and remain healthy for a long, long time, is a clear sense of purpose. You should never have to use discipline to keep moving; it must be part of who you are, of how you exist on this Earth.

Purpose goes well beyond motivation, though motivation can do you for a spell. Without a clear purpose, however, even motivation will wane and your exercise habit will go the way of so many other good ideas that just end up sitting on a shelf in your head.

Does that mean discipline is useless? Far from it. But in this series of short posts, I’m trying to explain the ways in which discipline is an essential component of your lifestyle.

Those ways are what I call The 5 Practices. Because there are 5. Only 5. Well, 5 main ones that I could think of when I planned this series. Maybe there are more, but these 5 strike me as the main ones. Oh, just read the post, and let me know if you can think of any more…

So what is Practice 2?

Simply put: Curb your enthusiasm.

It is the discipline of not acting rashly even when we feel capable and eager to do more (i.e. too much), or things that we are not yet ready for.

I could have called it “Stick to the Plan,” but often the problem comes precisely from making plans that are overly ambitious or enthusiastic. Especially if you don’t have a coach.

And even if you have a coach, it is too easy to convince the coach that you are ready for the next bigger thing (or too much work for the coach to constantly talk reason to you, not to mention too risky that you’ll seek another coach if that’s the case).

So the second practice of discipline is something you must impose on yourself. Primarily about your own eagerness.

Let me be very clear, just in case: What gets you to exercise regularly is your purpose, sometimes assisted by the motivation to reach a specific goal. Discipline serves to constrain your enthusiasm so that you stick to the plan, doing no more than what you are supposed to, so as to avoid burning out or getting hurt. Basically, discipline is not what gets you to exercise, or gets you to exercise more: It is what gets you to do exactly what you are supposed to.

How does the need for this practice come about?

The positive effects of exercise on the human body (and mind) are undeniable. Physiologically, we are meant to move a lot, and our animal bodies are at their best when we do. Everyday.

This results, in the long term, in better fitness and better health overall. Provided it is done the right way, without excessive stress leading to injury, this is the way to maximize the odds of living a long and active life.

In the short term, the physiological effects of exercise are also very positive; finishing a tough (but fair) workout results in a kind of euphoria that is regularly compared to a drug high. Or at least a very real sense of accomplishment. That is followed by a pleasant feeling of quiet fatigue often attributed to endorphins.

While beginning an exercise regimen is tough, when the enthusiasm of “getting back in shape” is combined with the excitement of the high and the subsequent relaxing low, the effect is one of wanting to do more, as soon as possible. It is quite addictive.

The process of going from sedentary to getting back in shape, the progress of the very beginning, with all its positive reinforcements, leads many to do way too much, too soon, and end up getting hurt. And stopping altogether.

For some, perhaps because they are younger or they manage to avoid an early injury, the phenomenon takes place after a first race or some other major event: They get hooked, so to speak, and want to do more, go faster, register for lots of races, etc. And then they get hurt. They can end up sidelined for months without being able to do much; in some cases they stop exercising altogether.

Either way, the problem is one of too much enthusiasm leading to not following a sound plan that is tailored to develop long-term fitness. The kind of fitness that leads to health. Fitness to race, to compete, even if it is “only” against oneself, is not fitness optimized for a long, healthy and active life. It is too short-term. And often counter-productive.

What’s someone to do?

So as you embark upon a new fitness program, or as you prepare for a new season of training in your chosen sport, curb your enthusiasm. Have that kind of discipline to tell yourself to not do too much.

Exercise and develop your ability to do more at a safe, reasonable pace. You’ll still get there, wherever “there” is for you. In fact, you may end up there faster, overall, as some have suggested (put that part has not been proven scientifically).

By all means, do more than you currently are. And celebrate your successes as you keep on moving (that’s really important, no matter how small they may appear to you, or insignificant to others). If you are into that sort of thing, do register for more events because that can help keep you focused on your purpose and keep track of your progress. But do so in a reasonable way, and for the right reasons.

Call it maturity, or wisdom. Call it “what the coach ordered” if it helps. It is certainly what our knowledge of exercise science, and my experience as a coach, indicate is best.

Ideally, get a coach to build you a program that is suitable for long-term fitness, and follow the plan. Even if you think you can do more.

The simple truth is that we are not the best judges of what is enough or sufficient when it comes to ourselves. But by being aware of this blind spot and/or asking for help to deal with it, you’ll do much better in the long term.

And that is why we need the second practice of discipline.

Exercise, Everyday, Coaching,

Do more. But don’t do too much. If you want to keep on moving.

Pictures from Pixabay.

An Ideal Vacation

Training, Vacation, Exercise

Do you put your feet up on vacation? Here’s a different idea.

Here’s my idea of the ideal vacation:

Get up a little before dawn and head to the beach in your swimsuit and goggles. As the sun rises, dive in and do a 30-60 minutes open water swim. Spend a few more minutes checking out the local wildlife (a.k.a. cute fish; barracudas should be avoided). Climb back on the beach, shower away the salt, dry yourself a little, then head off to breakfast.

Rest for a few minutes, perhaps updating your Facebook status or just lounging by the pool (no one else there yet at that time). Then get dressed to go cycling. Get on the bike and ride 2-4 hours. Get back and eat some lunch. Rest by the pool for a few minutes, or head to bed for a nap. Don’t fall asleep on a chair in the sun!

Before the afternoon is over, put on running shoes and head out for a run. Nothing fancy; 45 to 90 minutes. Enjoy the scenery and the warmth. Once done, have a nice shower, and go get some dinner.

Lastly for the day, spend a quiet evening relaxing in good company. Hit the pillow around 09:00 or 09:30 at the latest (trust me, you’ll be tired). Sleep well, dreaming of flying (a dream I often get when swimming in the ocean during the day).

Repeat, varying the durations and intensities, for a few days in a row (5-6). Some days are harder and faster, some are long and slow. No need to do all three sports on all days, either. Optional, at the end of the week: after a day of mostly resting, do a triathlon or some other race (could be as little as an Olympic distance, but a half Ironman or even a full is possible).

If you can afford it, spend a few more days relaxing and optimizing your recovery by moving some more, at a lower intensity. But even if you need to pack up and leave the very next day, such a vacation is sure to have re-charged your batteries for a while.

How does that sound? Have you had the chance of doing something like that before?

Swimming, Exercise, Training, Cozumel

Our swim “buddy” in Cozumel. Yes, it is a barracuda. No, it was not “relaxing” to have that near us as we swam.

This past September my wife and I spent 10 days in Cozumel. On the eighth day of our vacation I accompanied her through her first half-iron distance triathlon (without drafting). So we got to enjoy a fabulous 6 days of training in the heat, and a fantastic race (also in the heat).

Whether you are runner, cyclist, swimmer, or an “all of the above” enthusiast, variations on that theme can be a great deal of fun: Training camps, destination races, training vacations, etc. Going away just to train is an ideal way to dramatically increase your fitness level a few weeks before an “A” event, or to kick-start a new season. Or simply to have a different kind of vacation, a more active kind of vacation.

It sounds like the training regimen of a professional athlete, you say? To some extent, it does. It can be a taste of it, but without the pressure of having to perform. The best of both worlds, so to speak.

But the “ideal vacation” I described above does not need to be very intense, or for athletes only. It can be modified in various ways to make room for sightseeing (be it the volcanoes of Hawaii, the ruins of Mexico, the shops and museums of a large city) and the intensity can be adjusted to your own needs. Of course, the rest of the family can tag along, enjoying the other activities of the place while you are out training.

You can obviously do it at home, taking a week off from work to focus on training. We call that a “crash week” in training lingo. Keep in mind the downside of staying at home to take a training vacation: you can all too easily get sucked back into normal home stuff, and lose the focus on the training-resting combination that is what gets your fitness level to go up. Also, at home, you might have to cook, whereas on a training vacation, if you plan it well, someone else does it for you.

I prefer such a training vacation to be in a warm place, with an ocean to swim in and decent roads for riding. Trails for running are a big plus, but not mandatory.

You can find such places on your own, perhaps by organizing it around a marathon or triathlon event you wish to participate in. Probably not one where you want to do a PB, otherwise you’d be in taper mode and training less. But for shorter races, and without being too competitive, you can get both a great week of training and a fun event.

A better alternative is to simply sign up for a training camp.

It’s the kind of thing you can improvise for yourself, for instance by booking a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel and taking your own training program along. However, the packaged deals, including coaching supervision, offer many advantages, and can be obtained for not much more money than going on your own.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, leave me a message: I’m working with people hosting such a camp in Costa Rica in March, and there’s still room for a few athletes of all levels. It would be my pleasure to be your coach there.

Winter is coming (in the Northern Hemisphere). A training vacation is really ideal for fighting the winter blues. Not to mention getting ready for a new season.

Swimming, Training, Vacation

The author, enjoying a bit of post-swim fish sighting.

Photos credits: Sacha Veillette and Sophie Tremblay-Paquet

Defenders – Part 2

Ironman, Health, Fitness, Defender, Racing

Racing is a little like war. The swim part of an Ironman is definitely like Naval Battle…

Since posting the first part on this topic, I received a lot of comments.

Some, because they came from people I care deeply about, I feel I must address before going ahead with the discussion.

(OK, the comments I’m going to address came from my wife, but she is right, as usual.)

So imagine again, if you will, the third scene from Part 1, but in a slightly less gory way:

At an ironman distance triathlon, a whole bunch of participants push so hard that for the most part they collapse upon reaching the finish line. Only a few, having not quite given it their all, still manage to remain functional, walking around and re-hydrating, speeding up their recovery through some (very light) stretching and eating.

Then catastrophe hits: A tsunami is announced, and everyone must evacuate immediately!

But guess what? It’s everyone for himself or herself! Only those who are still functional can escape and survive. Those who collapsed at the end, those who abused their bodies too much during the race, are swept away by the wave, never to be found again.

Only those who survive can show up the next day to claim their spots during the roll-down for the World Championship…

Still perhaps not the most realistic scenario, but now we’re getting to the point I’m trying to make.

Racing to the point of collapse, of total exertion, of no longer having the resources to continue acting for yourself after the finish, is a bad idea. For many reasons.

First, it causes serious damage to your body. This is what some are really talking about when they point out that running marathons or doing triathlon causes the equivalent of 20 years of physiological damage. It is not the training regularly, which we all pretty much agree is in fact good for your health, that is causing the damage: it is the abuse of racing “all out”. (And sometimes of training too hard all the time.)

And even though a fit runner or triathlete will recover, some of the effects of the racing linger. Accumulate over time. So your body ages by 20 years in a few hours, then over days it becomes younger again, but never by quite the same amount. That is why elite racers never last very long in those sports, with a few exceptions. Going all out takes its toll on your body.

Second, it means you need a lot more time to recover after a race. Some might say that is fair, since after all you performed a “great feat”, obtained a personal best, etc. Something to be proud of, to be sure. But that recovery time means you cannot go about your normal activities for a while. It means you lack fitness, in the biological sense.

And during that time your body is more prone to infections. Again, while we all pretty much agree that regular exercise helps the immune system, being exhausted in fact depresses immune functions. For a while. It is commonly known among triathletes that you are most likely to get sick right after your “A” races, when you’ve pushed the hardest of the season.

And those are just the two main, physiological reasons. Racing all out, it could also be argued, frequently makes jerks out of people. But that is perhaps a different topic, best left for some other post…

So what is the alternative?

It is what I call racing like a Defender.

A Defender knows that more may be demanded of him (or her) later, so training and racing are intense but never all out, never to exhaustion.

Just like their namesakes of Antiquity and Medieval times, Defenders aims to protect what is precious to them. In the past it would have been the lives of their families; in racing, it is their own health. So the pretend fighting that racing in a way represents is done in such a way as to promote fitness, not take it away.

Conversely, someone who goes all out all the time can be thought of as an Aggressor, or an Invader. These are often fanatical in their drive to win, to conquer. And fanaticism is pretty much the opposite of having a well-balanced view of the world. It is not a peaceful, healthy way of living.

In the final analysis, and this is my racing philosophy, when you cross that finish line you can consider that you have beaten all of those who collapsed, needed medical attention, or are generally not able to function normally after a race. If you can still fight, figuratively speaking, when you are done, then you have prevailed over those who cannot (still figuratively; I do not condone any kind of violence, during or after competitions).

Even if the official rankings don’t reflect this philosophy, you can take pride in your achievement.

Think like a Defender, and consider what you could still have done after the race. Consider how you could still have outrun the tsunami (with proper warning, of course).

Racing is not about how well you rank compared to others. It is a motivational device, to keep you focused.

What really matters is your health.

Defender, Health, Fitness, Racing

Could you still run away if your life depended on it?

Photos by Pixabay.