How do you measure success?

Exercise, Success, Everyday, Psychology, Training

Winning. Is it everything? Is it even all it is cooked up to be?

I’ve written about this before. Or perhaps I just talk about it so much that I think I’ve written about it before. But seeing as the Boston marathon was just a few weeks ago, that quite a few people I know ran it, and that with summer around the corner, there’s lots of talk of running and races, why the heck should I not repeat myself?

Especially on such an important topic.

The Tired Old Way

How do you measure success in endeavors such as running, cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, or, of course, triathlon (to name just a few of those highly competitive “timed” sports)? Your answer is likely to be along the lines of “very simply: by whether one wins the race or not, duh!”

Indeed, if ever there was an area where measuring success, or performance, seems very straightforward, it is in events that are objectively measured by duration. (This post is therefore not about any of those “sports” where style, form, technique, and other subjective aspects are being scored. They might be very difficult to master, highly demanding, and quite enjoyable things to watch, but I’m not going to talk about them.)

If you’ve ever participated in a race of some sort, I bet you’ve been asked by at least one person (who was not joking about it) whether you won or not. It seems a natural thing to ask about in our society that celebrates victory and watching winners take all. But is that really the only way of evaluating the success of people taking part in such physical activities?

Allow me to have strong doubts about it, and a few minutes to try to convince you. Because, as much as it is commendable to strive hard and win races, being obsessed with winning is not healthy. You only have to observe the number of times people have cheated in order to qualify for Boston, even cheated to win it (or other races), to see that the winning obsession brings out the worst in us. (It is to the point where, either from misplaced pride or jealousy, fellow performance runners become very skeptical of anyone who claims to qualify for Boston. For instance, this recent article from the Runner’s World blog. But that is both very interesting in its own right, and a topic for another post.)

Valid Alternatives

So what else might there be? Here are a few possible answers:

Why not “going past our own limits”? To train hard, sacrifice much time and money to get into better shape, and finally be able to go farther, last longer, and feel better than we did. Surely that is a form of success worth celebrating. That we must celebrate, in fact.

How about being able to cover a certain distance in less time than previously possible? Measuring, in pure objectivity, an improvement in performance, even if said performance is not of a winning races type, that is surely a form of success for an athlete. And if one starts slowly enough, and improves slowly as well, it becomes possible to have success repeatedly over a long period of time…

For amateur athletes in sports like running, there appear to be many yardsticks, entirely arbitrary, that offer good alternatives: A half marathon in under two hours, a marathon in less than 4, etc. They are pretty good objectives to have, precisely because they are entirely… objective. It can provide a better frame for friendly competition, instead of the binary “winning or losing.” As long as one remains reasonable about said objectives, keeping in mind that we are all physiologically a little different.

Especially for marathon runners, to continue in that rich vein, there is of course the long shadow of the Boston Qualifier (BQ). It is like a badge of honor for runners, and as a personal objective it can be highly motivating. But since it is not necessarily a reasonable objective for everyone, it can indeed become a dark and cold place. Many start down that road with good intentions, and reasonable personal goals like those mentioned earlier, but then, at a bad turn, find themselves in the ditch of performance stress. However, if managed carefully, and as long as the goal is not to do better than others, it can be a very good measure of success.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter; to what I think is really the best measure of success of an athlete: Becoming a better human being.

The Best, So to Speak

Consider, for instance, an acquaintance of mine who just recently completed her second Boston Marathon. She trained hard, and long, to get there the first time. She suffered a great deal to reach that goal (and probably caused a bit of suffering to her husband in the process). But as a person, running has brought her tremendous benefits. She has grown, as much in personal health as in her capacity to do good around her.

Moreover, for years now she has used that energy to good ends; by being a mentor and a coach to folks who participate in the Team in Training fundraising program of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Thus, she is also serving a much greater cause, which is to fight against blood cancers (and cancers in general).

When she qualified for Boston the first time, she did not win the marathon she had entered. I know; I was there: I was her personal pace bunny. But that performance required her to go well beyond what she was previously capable of doing, running-wise.

And in doing Boston, she also did not win. But the more she runs, the more she grows, and the more she gives around her.

Success should be measured by being the best. The best human being you can be, that is.

So forget about being fast, about winning at all cost, about “qualifying” as the only worthwhile goal. Let those who seek only those things, and generally think only about their own persons, wallow in their narrow-minded attitudes. (If they have not yet driven you away because of their frustration at not quite having BQed at their latest races.)

The only yardstick that should matter is simple: Does it make you a better person?

Triathlon, Exercise, Everyday

Heck, at times, just “adding to my race bling collection” would appear a good objective. If it keeps you moving…

So move, everyday, by any means you enjoy, and pursue your own objectives. As long as it makes you better, and helps others around you more than it annoys them…

Image credits: 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

Not all advice is good advice

Coaching, Training, Swimming

Online advice as replacement for a real coach? Photo credits: Sophie Tremblay-Paquet

Should you really trust the advice you read online? Should you seek such advice, instead of turning to a coach?

(What follows is a spoof, NOT meant to be taken as real advice. Anyone tempted to do so would only prove my point, but I’m sincerely hoping everyone has more sense than that. Enjoy at your own risk…)

Take your triathlon racing to the next level

Wanna take your triathlon racing to the next level? Wanna win races in your age group? Perhaps you still have this nagging feeling you could have been a pro?

Here’s how to get one step closer to that dream, and take your racing to the next level. You’ll be amazed how simple it is:

Have all your teeth removed and replaced by dentures.

Your training and racing will benefit in many ways from this little change in your body configuration:

1) While you recover from the surgery, the mostly liquid diet combined to extensive endurance sessions will cause you to lose a lot of weight, improving simultaneously your power to weight ratio and VO2 max.

2) Since in the beginning you’ll have a hard time eating anything, this is the best time to do a lot of training on an empty stomach, thereby improving your body’s ability to use lipids from fat reserves as fuel.

3) After you’ve recovered and been fitted with dentures, every time you’ll be racing, you can leave your dentures in transition (or at home), and be at an even better racing weight than the rest of the field thanks to the reduced weight to carry around. (And since you are also fueling your race mostly with gels, you don’t really need your teeth anyway.)

Be the first in your age group to do this. You won’t regret it! Besides, if you can still smile on your finisher’s photos, you’ve clearly not pushed hard enough…

(End of spoof.)

Back to our regular program

As a coach, I’m amazed at how much advice you can obtain by simply going online and performing a cursory search.

It is to the point that one hardly ever needs to turn to professional coaches for advice. Or buy well-written, well-considered books on how to train.

Or is it?

The Web is indeed shock-full of running, swimming, and triathlon advice (not to mention other sports, but those three appear to be popular nowadays). However, is it always good advice? More importantly, can such random bits of (generally good) advice really be the best course of action for athletes hoping to develop in their sports?

My main concern, because I am a coach, is with what coaches do: provide the best guidance possible at every stage of an athlete’s development. My contention is that advice sought on the Web, or pushed in our faces on social media, is NOT, in fact, the best advice. It may not even be good advice.

Why?

Because it does not consider where in his or her development an athlete might be.

It is advice out of sequence; out of the flow of development of abilities, endurance, and speed.

Some of the advice, I’m afraid, even goes against optimal health, generally in the name of enhancing performance. (I’m really talking about triathlon advice here, not other kind of performance enhancing advice or products.)

I’m preparing a few posts on coaching, and I will address this concern at length, but to set the stage, I thought I’d offer this short spoof of some triathlon advice I recently came across.

And I’d like to hear from you about your impressions of the advice you get online. Do you seek it? Do you follow it? Do you use the services of a coach?

More to come on this topic… and looking forward to hearing from you.

Photo by Sophie Tremblay-Paquet.

Couples that exercise together…

Training, Exercising, Couples

…stay together.

We’ve all heard the rumours about marriages being destroyed by Ironman(TM) training. I’m sure there is some truth to them, considering the kind of commitment such pursuits demand, even though my personal experience cannot be blamed on that.

What I have witnessed first hand, however, is how difficult relationships can be when one partner exercises a lot and the other one doesn’t at all. That has certainly lead to divorce. Let’s face it, such differences in lifestyle and outlook on health are hard to reconcile, although not impossible.

What is less obvious is that even if two life partners do exercise regularly, even intensely, training together as a couple can still put a lot of strain on the relationship.

Yet there are few greater joys in life than being able to train as a couple. I am convinced it makes for a stronger relationship. So let me provide a few tips, based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence, on how to overcome the main pitfalls of exercising with your significant other.

Pitfall 1: One of the two is a lot faster than the other.

This is typically the case with running and cycling, and never applies to yoga (about which there is still a pitfall). Let’s face it, very few couples are evenly matched when it comes to speed.

But you can always do your long training sessions together, at the slower person’s speed. Yes, this is good for the faster person, too. Actually, the faster person might develop more endurance than previously enjoyed. Try it.

You can’t do tempo work as a speed-mismatched couple, but intervals are great opportunities. I’m a big fan of running slow together, then going fast for a while and coming back together during recovery. For additional kicks, go slow together, then fast for a time at the slower person’s fast speed, and then separately for a time at the faster person’s fast speed while the slower just jogs along. Then join again for recovery at a slow speed. Call it “interval ladders”; it’s very intense, especially if you do long intervals.

The pool is also a good place to train together, but careful of the slippery slope to yoga-like situations…

Pitfall 2: One of the two does a lot more exercise/training than the other.

This is where understanding is key. Understanding on the part of the person training less: a large amount of exercise often fulfills a need for personal achievement that has nothing to do with the couple. But also understanding on the part of the person training more: you still need to pull your weight around the house, buddy, even if you are tired. And you need to take your partner out on a date once in a while, even if it is beyond your bed time!

As I said, the key is understanding.

Pitfall 3: Both want to do an Ironman.

Exercise, Couples

Find things you can do together.

This one is more about sharing. Imagine you are both keeners, and intense on the training. You already have a great advantage in that you are sharing a commitment to a sport and philosophy of life. Perhaps you can both do the same event; I’ve seen folks get engaged at the finish lines of some races. Good for you!

But perhaps you need a different kind of sharing. For instance, while you can talk about the feelings of the preparation and racing, it is important that you let each other feel things differently as well, to each have a personal experience. Furthermore, the needs of each athlete, especially for such long events, are different, so one size does not fit all, and you each need some alone training.

So, by all means, do train together for long runs and long bike rides (see Pitfall 1), but also train on your own, because you need it. I strongly recommend the “alternate years” approach whereby each of you takes turn doing an Ironman. This also helps with Pitfall 2, and becomes mandatory with Pitfall 4.

Pitfall 4: Children

This is all about sharing. Sharing the load, sharing the responsibility, sharing the lack of sleep when the kids are young. But it is also about sharing your passion for exercise with the kids.

Nowadays, there are so many good strollers and buggies you can take the kids in while out on a run or bike ride. Careful with swimming though. But the point is: get equipped, and share!

However, you’ll likely need to tone it down; go for shorter outings, not go as fast, etc. And perhaps get a less competitive bike on which you can install the additional gear. But it is all worth it. And you could probably use a bit of a break from being an endurance nut.

The best advice here is: enjoy it! They grow up so fast. And then, use the “alternate year” approach and even the “alternate days” to give each other a break from chores by going out on your own for a more intense session. Or just a nap.

Pitfall 5: Bitching

It is bound to happen at some point: when the going gets tough, the toughs get going, but sometimes there is bitching involved as well.

This is where communication is key. The bitching part of the couple must remember to say that the bitching is not directed at the significant other, and the significant other must not respond too much; simply nod and otherwise show compassion. It helps to sprinkle some “I love you” in there as well. For instance, while running or cycling (not applicable to swimming, somehow):
“I really hate this f$&@ing rain. Are we there yet? And I love you!”

To which the other replies, carefully:
“I know how you feel, and I love you too.” (After a pause, smiling gently.) “It is all the fault of the meteorologists, but it could happen during the race we are training for. And I love you!”

In case you have not caught on yet, always use “and” before “I love you.” Trust me. And deflecting responsibility does not hurt, either.

This, by the way, is also valid advice for traffic jams and standing in a crowd for last-minute X-mas shopping. Always find a way to blame meteorologists; they are used to it.

Pitfall 6: Yoga

This is probably the most dangerous pitfall of them all. The way it typically goes is: one person is into yoga, the other is into endurance sports. And then you try to meet somewhere in the middle.

While yoga is good for you as an endurance nut, and yoga nuts could use more cardio in their lives, there is a big problem that is bound to lead to arguments: the outfits. In particular, people striking all sorts of interesting poses and sweating in skimpy outfits. One of the two is bound to stare a little too much, and/or make a comment, and then the next thing you know you are having an argument.

It is not worth it. Just stay away. Let the person doing yoga have yoga, and the endurance nut have endurance.

Pitfall 7: Snooze and Snuggle

This is the most tricky, in my experience. You are so comfortable in bed that getting up and training becomes difficult. So you snooze and snuggle together. And don’t train as much as you are supposed to.

Keep in mind that recovery is important when you train hard. But you still need to get up and train. Thus the conflict.

I have no solution for this one, so if you do, I’d like to hear from you…

 

Recovery, Exercise, Training, Couples

Down time is also needed.

Pictures from Pixabay.

Slow, smooth, steady… healthy!

Slow is smooth...

Slow is smooth…

There is a saying in swimming: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Simply put, you are better off having a slow, technically sound rhythm, which makes for smooth motion in water, rather than rushing through your movements (and splashing about a lot more, which is NOT smooth), because ultimately smooth movement through water will make you go fast.

This saying applies to life in general. Better to act in a “slow” (read: planned, thoughtful, methodical, mindful) way, which will cause you to do whatever you do smoothly, and ultimately to complete projects and tasks faster than if you rush through and must correct mistakes and re-do the work over and over again.

And, of course, it applies to fitness and health as well. (Otherwise, I would not be writing this post.) Though, to bring the point home, I might re-phrase it thus:

Fitness is daily, daily is healthy.

Basically, putting yourself through grueling workouts 3 or 4 times (or more?!) per week, thereby risking injury and burning-out, can be counter-productive. Especially if the rest of the time you minimize your activities, sitting on your chair at work, on your couch at home, and in your car in-between.

Don’t get me wrong: working out hard can be a lot of fun. And it can serve the purpose of preparing your body for big events like running a 10k, doing a triathlon, etc., which are extra-ordinary demands to put on your body. And working out hard can be a great feel-good moment in your week. But if it is unsustainable, it becomes like yo-yo dieting, and that’s not healthy for your body.

The key to fitness that leads to long-term health, ultimately, is to have good, steady habits on a daily basis. It is everyday fitness that will protect you from having to re-start a training program over and over again because each time you do it becomes overwhelming, or you end up hurting yourself.

So be slow, be smooth, be steady in your activities. Be an everyday athlete. And increase your odds of being healthy for a good, long time.

...smooth is fast.

…smooth is fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos from Pixabay.