Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Are you Motivated or Engaged

              A conversation I have had with almost all the athletes that I have coached, from very young swimmers to older athletes trying to finish their first 5k up to an Ironman, or qualify for prestigious races, the topic of motivation comes up. It is a topic I asked Olympic swim coach and head of University of Texas Men’s swimming Eddie Reese of how he keeps his athletes motivated. My time as a contractor with the Navy you could often hear comments about hard workers of “they are really motivated” or those who did not meet a minimum standard that they were “not motivated enough.” As a younger athlete I would at times struggle with what I though was my motivation.

              Over time I learned something, that motivation comes and goes for everyone. It is true, at times we are highly motivated, and we feel like we can do any race or any workout. But motivation is fleeting, it can feel like it is there one moment and instantly gone the next.  We can feel motivated for weeks or months at a time, but it can also come and go within a day or a single workout. Motivation is really tied to our energy levels. We only have so much. It is hard to be motivated when you are exhausted, stressed, or overworked. The idea that motivation is the secret to success, to achieve amazing heights, is, a myth. One only needs just enough motivation to get up off your butt. To do the rest, what you need to be is committed or engaged.

              What does it mean to be committed or engaged? The best example I can think of that almost everyone can relate to in one way or another was when my first child was born. When he first came into the world I was full of excitement and emotion. There was this amazing mix of constant happiness and worry. One could say that I was extremely motivated to make sure he was taken care of with making sure diapers were changed and him being fed. The nurses found it funny how much detail I would go into when I recorded how feeding went and how much he filled his diapers. The lack of sleep did not bother me, I was motivated to care for my son. Eventually, as all parents find out, the lack of sleep starts to catch up with you and any feelings of motivation disappears. On the surface, this may sound terrible, how can one not be motivated to care for their child. But it was not motivation that kept me wanting to change my son’s diapers or help feed him in the middle of the night. Motivation went out the window with the lack of sleep. It was my wife’s and I’s commitment to him. It was and is being engaged in his wellbeing.

I coach my son’s t-ball team and it is, as anyone who has coached a 3-4-year-old t-ball team can relate, a challenge. After a long day of work and lack of sleep if my daughter does not sleep through the night, I may have used up all my motivation. What gets me there, even when exhaustion feels overwhelming, is being committed to helping him and his teammates learn not only the sport of baseball, but also the values it teaches them. To be honest, I have not always been at my best. I have left many practices, from T-Ball, to swimming, to track workouts, to clinics, feeling like I could have done more. And my commitment to wanting to be better, wanting to help others is what makes me vow to be better next time. The only real motivation I need is just enough to get up off my butt. After that, then it’s a matter of being engaged to get done what needs to be done.

              Now, what do we do when we don’t have that small little bit of motivation to just get off our butt or out of bed. Let me start this by saying, if you have a hard time getting out of bed, doing day to day activities such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of yourself, you find yourself skipping work, or anything that is detrimental to your wellbeing, please seek professional help. There maybe more going on that you will need assistance with. I can name many amazing individuals who have looked for and found professional help and they are the better for it.

              Start small. Look for your number one obstacle that you can identify that is keeping you from finding that little bit of motivation it takes to then be engaged. It could be something as simple as not getting enough sleep or not eating healthy. It maybe more complicated such as your job or a relationship. It maybe that you need to take a step back from the sport for a while. Athletes that I have coached have done this, taking anywhere from a eek off to several months to a year. I have done this. I needed a break. Racing professionally, I took almost a full year off racing. I stayed in shape, trained, but without a race on my calendar and lots of flexibility in my day to day training. My first race back was the fastest I have ever gone in an Olympic race. Later I completed my first half Ironman and Ironman. Whatever it is, identify what changes you can make and start to make those changes.
             
              Make it a habit. To make it a habit, start with one day.  It can be hard to balance work, family, and training along with everything that life throws at you. It is easier if what you do is a habit, or part of your routine. How does one make it a habit or part of their routine? By going by the old cliché of taking it one day at a time. It really is true. All you need to do is find enough motivation to get up and get the day started. Then the day after that, do the same. By taking it one day at a time, it will eventually become a habit or part of your routine. It may take a week, it could take a month, but by taking it one day at a time, it is much easier to manage.
            
             Find or create a challenge. To help a couple athletes try to get through a slump, I suggested a 100-day challenge. It was 30 minutes of activity a day. If there was a workout but they could not do it, then they were to do a 30-minute walk, yoga class, or any physical activity that was 30 minutes. I joined in, did it as 30 minutes of running every day and it helped my lay a good foundation for when I would start my Boston Marathon training. The goal, if you do something similar, is to get in around 20 days straight. After that, you don’t want to break the streak, so you find ways to get in what you need to get done. Some of my runs I did at 9 at night because that is when I could get it in. It’s a lot easier to do when you are 60 days in and you don’t want to break the streak. The streak kept going because of the simple desire not to break it. During this time I found new challenges, such as seeing how many miles I could get in a week (78 miles for those who are curious with the longest single run being 12 miles). The streak finally ended at 175 days after a half marathon and the birth of my daughter. I did not think it would go over well if I told my wife I had to leave her in the hospital while I went to run to keep my streak going. What made it successful is that it gave me a daily goal. That daily goal kept me engaged and then it became a habit.
 
               We all faces challenges, we all have times where we lack motivation, loose our commitment and are no longer are engaged. But do not worry, you can get it back, reach out to your coach, make sure they know what you are going through and find a plan that works for you. 

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Race Day Nutrition- Screw the science and find what works

        There is a lot of information out there on race day nutrition from articles to advice from friends, coaches, and fellow racers. What is the best product, what will help an athlete achieve their PR or get them to the finish line of an Ironman?

        When it comes to race day nutrition, I am not against science (I will admit, the title is a little bit of an attempt at click bait). Science has allowed us to make amazing strides in nutrition and training and I use it to guide me. However, I also like to go by the philosophy of find what works best for you. It does not matter how great a product is, how science has proven it is the best product. If your stomach cannot tolerate it, if it will make you sick, then it does not matter how great it is if you will not be taking it in.

        The most important thing you an do is to try different products in your training and see how you respond to them. How does your stomach tolerate it, how does it make you feel during and after your training session.

         Coach Dana, when she did Ironman Wisconsin, had to find what would work for her. She could not stomach gels, they made her sick.  So she did some reading and tried different products. In the end she discovered her stomach could tolerate white bread with almond butter and shot blocks. It worked for her as she had a 3 hour PR.  Another athlete I had ate SPAM sandwiches when she conquered her first Ironman after having an unsuccessful first attempt. Personally when I race shorter distance tri's I drink a mix of half orange Gatorade and water. I do this because the orange flavor suits me and the reason it is half water is because I don't like the taste of warm Gatorade, which happens in the summer as your bike sits in transition. By diluting it, it tastes a little lighter and I am more likely to drink it. For Ironman Wisconsin I used Nuun because I could not choke down what was being offered on the course. I liked the taste of it and it was easy to have the tablets if I needed to mix more up during the race. The decision was made to change to eating bonk breakers as that was offered on the course and I like them. If there were any problems taking in bonk breakers, then it would have required me to find a different solution. My preference for gels is GU, however, what flavor of GU I use will depend on the outside temps. If it is really hot, flavors like Chocolate, Mocha, Chocolate mint, Salted Caramel don't appeal to me, I find they are hard to eat. My preference are for flavors that seem to be lighter when taking them in, such as citrus flavors or raspberry.


        If you are convinced a certain product is best do to reviews you have read or advice from coaches and friends, but you you keep finding yourself not feeling well or having GI issues, try something different. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing or and over again and expecting a different result. The good news is, there are a lot different products you can try and you will find what works best for you.

        Have you found something that has worked best for you? Please leave a comment as it may work for someone else.

    If you find you like the information on this blog, please share! If there is something you want me to address, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Its Getting Hot Out There- How to Make Smart Decision for Better Results

        We are again getting into the race season and that means it is getting hot outside. In the Midwest one weekend we had temps in the 50's and within a week temperatures reached 90 degrees. For those who live in Florida and other warm weather locations are thinking the 90's are no big deal. And this is true, if you are acclimated to hot weather, it can be easier to manage. The challenge is, when we hit the summer months and we have spikes in the temps. I am sure everyone can agree doing a run in 50 degrees weather and then a few days later doing one in 90 degree weather is just not enough time to acclimate and we need to be smart in out training to not only have a good training day, but to be able to recover so we can have another good day the next day. The heat can wear us out more then we realize and can not only have negative effects on a training session, but due to the recover time, may have negative effects on our recovery several days later.

        Since a pool can keep us cool and the bike with wind resistance and being able to carry more water and fluids makes it easier to keep our core temps down, I am going to focus on tips for running in hot weather. However, some of these tips can be applied to swimming and biking as well.

1. If you can, schedule your run workouts in the morning or evening. It will be cooler during these times and will allow for a better overall workout.

2. Slow down and watch your heart rate: You may have been prescribed certain paces to hit on your run, but pay attention to your HR. Even though your pace maybe at a recovery or endurance the heat maybe causing your heart rate to sky rocket. If you are doing an endurance run and your HR is reading 170, then you are taxing your body to much. Pay attention and realize it is ok to slowdown, you are still getting the work in. If the HR is to high, you will be working much harder then you need to and it will take longer for you to recover.

3. Carry water and fluids. You need to replenish your fluids and electrolytes and the hotter it is, the more you need. With fluids on a hot day it is better to take the side of caution and carry more then you think you will need or plan a route were there are water fountains or water stops to fill back up. It is better to have it and not need it vs need it and not have it.

4. Wear a hat or visor and sunglasses. The shade covering your face along with your sunglasses blocking the sun will help keep you cool. On race day a mesh hat is a good idea. During ice stations you can take ice and put it under your cap and hold it in your hands to help keep you cool.

5. Find a shade. If you are running, try to pick route that has plenty of shade. If you find yourself over heating get in some shade to bring your body temps back down.

6. Be honest and be safe. If you are over heating stop!! There is no need to think you need to gut it out.  You do not want to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke. I have dealt with those situations where someone has had heat stroke and heat exhaustion and it can be scary. All three times we had paramedics on staff and could give immediate assistance. If you are out on a run by yourself or far from immediate assistance, the results could be devastating.


Stay safe out there. I would personally have an athlete tell me it was just to hot to run so they skipped it vs getting a phone call that something bad has happened because they felt they had to get a workout in. One workout will not make or break you if you need to cut it short due to the heat. However, one workout where you push too far in the heat could end your season or something worse.

Stay cool and stay safe

- Coach Nick

Friday, May 4, 2018

What's the End Game? What's Next?

Recently I was speaking with some parents of young athletes. Our topic was the overall goal of youth athletics and what they want to see their children accomplish and learn from their experiences. What's the end game?

I will not get into the entire discussion on the topic and my opinions youth athletics as that is a different topic for another time. However, it is a good question we should ask ourselves  and revisit from time to time as we train and take on these challenges we have set out to conquer. Below are two of the many reasons we should do this.

The first is that it is important to have a reminder of why we have set out on this journey, why have we chosen the road we we are on. We all face different challenges and obstacles and, given enough of them, along with the fatigue that comes with training, it will wear anyone down over time, just as the smallest trickle of water, over time, will crack the largest rock. There will be times almost all athletes question why they have decided to try and do a race. This is is the same for life and what we take on outside of racing. Reflecting on why the first step was taken in the first place will help guide us through the tough times and serve as guide to help us keep pushing forward, to stay the course.

All our goals are different. Some of use race to beat a time, some race to try and get a certain place, others race to finish. And all of these reason are admirable and its important to understand that not one of them is more important then the other. Never think or let anyone tell you that because your goal has nothing do to winning it carries less value. It is important to you, and that is all that matters.

In addition to these, ask yourself what other reasons are you out there? If your only reason is to have a certain place or a time, then, with factors out of your control, you end up not reaching your goal, the day will feel will feel empty., and you will take no joy from it. A good example is Boston this year. With running into 20+mph winds, temps at 40 degrees, and rain, it is not an ideal day to achieve a goal time. If I had wanted to only hit  a certain time, I would have been very unhappy. But I also wanted to walk away feeling like I went after the race and had a solid effort. In the end, I did and it that is something I can hang my hat on. So find more then one reason. Perhaps it's to stay healthy and active. Maybe its the challenge of a tough course. Maybe you want to set a positive example for your children, nieces, or nephews.

If you want to explore this further, I encourage you to read "Magical Running" by Bobby McGee as he speaks about targets vs goals and how you can find more meaning in your racing. Yes, it does have the title running in it, but it can be applied to any sport.


The second is to have an idea of what is next. You may not know exactly what you want to do, but having an idea will help you transition after your goal race.  Some athletes set out to run a marathon or a do an iron distance triathlon. Then, after a lot of work, time (could be years) and focus the goal is accomplished and they are now left without an idea of what they should do to fill their time. No real thought was put into what comes next.

Did you know many Olympic athletes will deal with depression after their careers are done. To compete at that level and to accomplish what they do, they put the blinders on and push forward and do whatever it takes. Once they are done, there is now a lot of time that is hard to fill and to fill it with the passion and drive they pursed in their careers. Trying to figure out what you want to do next is hard when you just want to focus on your current goal, but having at least an idea will help the transition. It does not have to be a race, it could be you want to focus more on a hobby, write a book, maybe go back to school, or simple have the time to coach your child's soccer team. Having an idea of what you want to do next will allow you to be be able to put your time, energy, and efforts into the new challenge and allow you to have the fulfillment and satisfaction out of life that you deserve.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fall Back on Training. Don't Leave Your Goals to Luck

Spring is just around the corners and many of us have early season races on the horizon that we are preparing for. Additionally, it is March Madness with many other championships happening in college and high school sports. As I listen to ESPN radio and read the news and hear radio hosts and coaches talk about players, there is a common phrase that is repeated again and again that, to me, is like fingers on a chalk board. It's when they say this player or that athlete "really stepped up today" or they "rose to the occasion."

Why is it that I do not like when this is said? Because if you ever have to rise to the occasion or step up to the occasion, then you are not properly prepared for your race or competition. In my time working as a contractor with the Navy, I was told something that really made me think how we as coaches should prepare our athletes and how, as athletes, we prep for races. I was told they never want anyone to rise to the occasion, they want them to fall back on their training.
The thinking is, we want to take as much chance out of our situations as possible. There are many things we cannot control, however we want to control everything that we can. No one should show up to the start line hoping on luck or chance to reach their goal. Anytime a world record is set, that athlete trained to set that record with efforts at or faster then race pace. Anytime a distance or goal is achieved, the athlete is prepared for that. The game winning shots in the NCAA basketball tournament and game winning drives in football have been rehearsed time and time again. It is the preparation of the athlete that allows them to take advantage of those moments, that makes others look on in awe and say "WOW".

This coming Sunday I have a half marathon as a prep race for the Boston marathon in just over four weeks. This race was chosen because it is hilly and will prep me for any hills at Boston. Even though the half is being used as tune up for Boston, I will also be prepared for the half, I want to know everything I can about the course and competition. On packet pick up on Saturday, I will drive the course to familiarize myself with it and finalize my race strategy so I know what to expect on race day. What are the hills like. Is it more down hill in the beginning, with more up hill at the end? Were are water stations? I will gather as much information as I can as that will dictate my pace and effort. Example, if it is an uphill finish for the last couple miles, I want to make sure I have conserved energy so I do not suffer and break. For Boston, I have found a Youtube video of the Boston course and I have watched it a couple times and will watch it more so I can familiarize myself with the course as much as possible, where the hills are, how it should be broken up, and what are key landmarks to look for.


You may not be able to drive the course before your race and there may not be a video to watch, so you want to do what you can. Look at the course map, look how it compares to google maps to find landmarks, find something that shows elevation differences so you know when the race has a hill or is flat. The more prep there is, the less there is left to chance and you can enjoy race day and fall back on your training for a successful race day.