2/20/14

Are you still an athlete if you don't race?


Ever since the age of 10 yrs I have called myself an athlete. I balanced my education with swimming all the way until I graduated from Transylvania University in my hometown of Lexington, KY. I specialized in the 200 meter butterfly, 100 breakstroke and 200 IM. For me, swimming was not a chore or a way to burn calories in my teenage years but instead, the pool was a place where all my friends were at, the place where I had fun and the place where I practiced in order to compete. 

My brother was also a student athlete. Aaron (my brother) started gymnastics at a very young age after my parents noticed that his natural ability to flip all around his room needed to be put to good use. Aaron continued to excel in gymnastics until his final year of college at University of Michigan. He finished on a very high note as the 2007 Big Ten High Bar Champion with this winning routine. 


                            

For most of our life, my brother and I shared a similar passion for sports but we also placed a lot of value on our education. 

Somehow, we were able to balance it all but I also feel that without sports, we would not have the skills that are needed in our careers in order to succeed. Still today, we both enjoy exercising and using our body and we both continue to train for races (my brother has raced in several half marathons) as a way to stay 'balanced'. 

If you call yourself an athlete here are some of the great skills that can come from training your body to perform.

-Work as a team or support others
-Be humble
-Embrace competition
-Discipline
-Goal setting
-Work hard
-Challenge yourself
-Overcome obstacles and setbacks
-Self-motivation
-Mentally durable
-Time management
-Can't procrastinate
-Self discipline
-Coachable and willingness to learn
-Can perform under pressure
-Can step outside of your comfort zone (or stretch your comfort zone)
-Be flexible
-Have a plan
-Great work ethic
-Be open to change and failure


As you can see, many of the skills that are needed in sport also work great in life. If you are thinking about signing up for a race/event, and you have a few of the skills listed above that you use in your every-day life, I have a feeling you are going to be very successful when you dedicate yourself to training for a race.

As a student athlete for all of my life, it was only natural for me to seek a new challenge when I graduated from undergrad and moved to the running/tri state of Florida. As much as I loved to exercise, I was raised with a mindset that my body loves to train and perform.

I discovered endurance running while I was in graduate school and quickly endurance triathlons followed. I was hooked immediately when I crossed my first marathon finish line because I not only felt a great sense of achievement and accomplishment but I also really enjoyed the amazing journey that I was able to experience with my body and mind while training for my race.

As we all know, life happens. So despite loving racing and training for a race and every high and low that comes with being an age-group athlete, there are times in my life when a race/event is not in my near future. However, I never feel as if my title of athlete goes away. 

I find that many active individuals who love to race, struggle with life when "it" happens. Injury, new baby, move, job change, relationship change.....On one side of your though process you know you can't balance it all and perform well at your race but on the other side there's this underlying fear of missing out or sense of "routine" that you feel you will lose if you do not race in the next few months. 

If you are considering signing up for a race or have competed in races but are currently struggling with the fact that you are unable to race in the near future, here are a few of my tips to help you out so that you can feel confident that you will never lose your "athlete" title. 


Injury

For any athlete - professional, novice, age group or elite - there's always a chance for injury.  
With no magic ball to predict the future, in order to gain the competitive edge athlete are often willing to take chances and risks. Sometimes those risks turn out great and sometimes there's a setback in the way. 
Returning from an injury can be extremely difficult, especially if you have a race on the schedule, if the injury is taking longer than expected to heal or if you feel as if you are losing fitness during the rehab/recovery process. 
As an athlete, you have the discipline, motivation and determination to return to optimal health and fitness and perhaps gather a greater understanding of your body. By focusing on what you CAN do, do not think about the past or what you use to do but instead, keep your eyes set on the future. You can only make progress if you are willing to do the work and when you do get to your next start line you can enjoy looking back at all the obstacles you overcame to make your finish line experience even more enjoyable. 

-Consider volunteering at a race to give back to your sport while you are injured
-If there is an activity that you are allowed to do (pain free), don't be afraid to change up your routine
-Don't think black or white, all or nothing. You may not feel it now but the water jogging, anti gravity treadmill, strength training will pay off. 
-Have a good support system. If all your friends/training buddies are posting on social media about epic workouts, it may be good to focus on only yourself for a while or surround yourself with people who give you positive energy to keep you moving forward. 

LIFE CHANGES
A new baby, a move, a new job, a relationship change. There are many exciting and stressful moments in life that need your full attention. Perhaps a race in the next few months is not on your to-do list or maybe that race that motivated you for months to get out of bed at 5am is no longer on the horizon. This can be very hard for athletes because everyone handles these situations differently.
What's most important is that you focus on yourself so you can stay balanced. What's great is that your sport of choice will not disappear in the next year. There will be more races and even if you have to change up your plans, you never have to lose sight of your goals.

-Consider getting involved with more groups so that your focus is not on "training" but instead working-out and exercising.
-Don't try to stick a plan if the plan is not accommodating to your new "life" or change. Maybe you can't follow a 6-7 day training plan like you use to but if you have a few days each week here or there that you can enjoy a little "me" time, take advantage of it.
-Communicate. Whether you need support from friends or need to talk to your family, it's important that you still stay active for health benefits. Find a balance.
-You are still an athlete even if you are not training for a race right now. You can still jump into "practices" or do a favorite workout and adjust the effort based on how you feel on that day. 
-No one can ever remove your past finishing titles or take away your medals. Celebrate what you have accomplished rather than placing negative emotions on what you are unable to do at this time with your sport career.
-Your motivation and inspiration will never go away so why not help someone else train for an event. Perhaps you can not maintain a structured training plan but your enthusiasm for sports can be a great asset for someone who is just starting out. 

NOT YET AN ATHLETEWhat if you are not comfortable calling yourself an athlete because you have yet to cross a finish line? Perhaps you are a bit hesitant to sign up for a race/event because you will be stepping out of your comfort zone? It's likely that you have the skills to train for a race so don't be afraid to get started (that's always the scary part). Once you register for a race or plan your upcoming race if more than 6+ months down the road and registration is not open yet, embrace your new title of an athlete. 

-As an athlete, you are no longer working out just to "be healthy" or "burn calories". Be sure to fuel your body so that you can adapt to training stress and recover well.
-Work with a coach so you can follow a plan that works for your goals, lifestyle and body. Remember, you are an athlete so a plan will have structured workouts to help you prepare for your upcoming race/event.
-Enjoy your athlete body. Your muscles may change, your heart may pump more quickly at times, your legs may burn and you may sweat more than normal. Enjoy what your body is letting you do and always thank your body for what it allows you to do.
-Involve others. Find other new and veteran athletes who can share your journey with you. The veteran athletes can give you advice and can also keep you motivated whereas your newbie athlete friends can share the excitement with you when milestones are reached. 

So.....are you an athlete if you don't race right now?

Absolutely.