9/16/15

The emotional athlete


It's hard to believe that just over 1 year ago, Karel and I qualified for the 2015 IM World Championship. And in two weeks from yesterday, Karel and I will be boarding a plan to the big island of Kona. And in 24 days, we will both be starting our 140.6 mile journey with 1500+ of the best Ironman athletes around the world. 

Just like you, we are on the same emotional roller coaster that so many experience when training for a key race. With any race day countdown in place, the ups and downs of training for an event can leave you exhausted and drained on some days and excited and overly energized on other days. 

No matter what the race distance may be or your fitness level, we all struggle with the dynamics of our emotions on a day to day basis.
Before you scream "why me?" when you find yourself angry, crying or stressed (or all three at once), what you feel is completely normal and not limited to world class, professional or elite athletes.
Every athlete has the opportunity to improve on weaknesses, experience gains in fitness and succeed on race day, so it is important to learn how to get your feelings under control.  

TRAINING MOTIVATION

                 It's truly remarkable how motivation can swing like a pendulum in any given week, day or even in an hour.
12 weeks out from a race and you may find yourself skipping workouts, not sticking to your training plan or struggling to get your butt out of bed in the morning (or get to the gym after work).  But 4 weeks out from your race, you realize that you can not change the past and all of a sudden, you feel unstoppable and it's no trouble to easily check off every workout on your training plan.
Monday through Friday, you can't seem to find your mojobut come the weekend, you can knock out hours and hours of training and still crave more.
And ask any triathlete who spectates or watches a triathlon race online (especially Kona) and within 24 hours, you can go from having no motivation to finding an enormous amount of energy to do the work....even when you haven't changed anything else in your life (ex. you are still busy, tired, stressed, etc.).

                 Motivation is the driving force for effort and with effort comes accomplishment. When you feel accomplished, you are more driven to continue to stay motivated to train. To perform your best and reach your goals, you must find ways to keep yourself motivated and be willing to go out of your way, sometimes, to get the work done. To help you out, dedicate 5 minutes before every training session to ask yourself the following: "What are my goals, why am I working so hard, why do I love to do this, how can I clear my brain right now to focus on my workout, why is this so important to me, how can I make this workout fun?
                  It is important that you allow yourself to manage the emotions that may cause you to struggle with motivation before workouts and to keep your thoughts positive during a workout so that you do not find excuses especially when the going gets tough. 


NUTRITION
                In my line of work, I work with a lot of athletes who struggle with the emotions tied to their body image. And, I also work with a lot of athletes who are performance-focused and want to learn how to eat for fuel and for health to maximize performance.
The immediate vulnerability that an athlete experiences before, during and after training often causes an athlete to intentionally underfuel or to use food as a reward. The big problem with this is that the times when the body is under the most stress (training/working out) is when the body needs appropriate nutrients, fluids, calories and fuel to meet metabolic demands. But for an athlete who has a poor relationship with his/her body, seeks body composition changes or lacks the education on how to properly fuel for workouts, will sabotage the workout and health by not taking advantage of fueling the body in motion.
On the flip side, there is often the tendency for athletes to carry poor eating habits in their daily life while training for an event which often creates negative internal dialogue, creating an unhealthy relationship with food. Examples include "
I shouldn't be eating this, I'll be better tomorrow, I wish I didn't eat that, I feel so gross/fat, I'm being so bad". In this instance, you absolutely do not want to let emotional eating sabotage your performance, energy, health or body composition.
               Every athlete has the ability to put great passion into their daily eating habits where eating is not strict, an obsession, forced or boring. To ensure that you keep a good relationship with food, plan ahead. Plan, plan, plan! Just like with a well designed training plan, you can feel more balanced and more in control of your choices, when you set yourself up for good behaviors. 


INJURY

               Talk about an emotional roller coaster!
An injured athlete often goes through several stages to cope with the injury diagnosis, rehab and recovery process that often resembles grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Depending on what stage an athlete is in after the injury occurs, this can often dictate how the athlete will manage his/her emotions relating to the injury and recovery process.

              To ensure that you do not make further damage by pushing through pain if you are denial or angry at the injury or while feeling down in the dumps you decide that the rehab, therapy and cross training routine is just not worth it, find an athlete who has proven that an injury doesn't have to be the end of your triathlon career and then keep them in the front of your mind as you manage your emotions and trust yourself that you will heal. Linsey Corbin, Jesse Thomas, Craig Alexander, Meredith Kessler, Janelle Morrison are among the many professional triathletes who have all proven that it is possible to be at the bottom with your fitness with an injury but with hard work, focus and determination, rise to the top again. 

EMOTIONS

Did you know that you can be nervous and confident at the same time?
Did you know that you feel ready and be worried at the same time?
Did you know that you can feel off but still perform well?

You may think that the training is tough leading up to a race but sports also test your emotional stability.
Feelings and actions are two different things and as athletes, we need to learn how to calm the feelings that may negatively affect our performance and instead, hold on to the feelings that help us enhance our performance.
Emotions are part of being an athlete and it is important that you learn how to embrace the nerves, anxieties, fears and concerns and bottle up the good vibes, confidence and excitement for seeing what your body can do on race day. 

I often view racing as the end of a chapter of life. We all have a "book of life" and we fill our life with many chapters. Every chapter is filled with emotions - lots of them! Some chapters are not so fun and we don't want to remember them but then there are chapters where it is exhilarating to write the pages of our life because no one can write them for you - only you! 
Training is fun and exciting but also it is challenging and exhausting.
With every training journey, you are in a chapter of your life. 
Make it a good one!