Tools For Embracing The Process
12 KEY TOOLS FOR EMBRACING THE PROCESS
It’s day 56 in Walt’s doggie training log. Hundreds of treats have been dished out over daily training sessions. Positive associations built. Reinforced. Things feel like they are going great until one morning out on a casual walk I let my guard down, he barks and lunges aggressively at an innocent, non-threatening bike commuter. Walt’s lunges are terrifying, with grinding teeth, snarling spins and acrobatic flips that leave him tangled in a mess of leash, hair, pavement and spilled treats. Even better, on this particular morning, I’m poop bag in hand, completely unprepared to restrain him. As the terrified biker passes us, Walt pulls on the leash harder, nearly popping my shoulder out of the socket and dragging me through his poop. “Walt, Sit,” I say. But, he’s so fixated on the biker that I don’t exist. I immediately curse under my breath, “Damn it, Walt, not again, dude. I thought we figured this out.”
There is nothing like being a new dog owner to make you take a good long hard look at how process-oriented, long-term growth mindset thinking works in training just like it does in life. In fact, everything in life is rooted in embracing the process of digging deep and embracing the tens of thousands of treats, not hundreds, it takes to get good, and I mean really good, at something.
In the heat of the moment, a tough day at work, a failed batch of cookies, or a crappy day out on the trails, it’s so easy to lament over “not improving,” or “I’m getting worse,” but, in life, just like in training, progress is never linear. It’s these tough days that add spice to life and ask us to adapt, to get better, to move forward. Life, just like training, is hundreds of failures, setbacks, small positives accentuated, slips, falls, tiny steps forward, breakthroughs and moments of bliss that all culminate together into that thing we call progress.
Training a dog to behave in the way you want him to, like becoming a good runner, takes hundreds, if not thousands of days in the training log, and innumerable small steps in between. Day 56 is the beginning of the beginning of the beginning. So, here are our 12 key tips for embracing a long-term growth mindset so you can buckle up for the long training ride ahead. Use them in training, but apply them to life.
Know that breakthroughs take many months and for some athletes, especially really well trained athletes, years. The work to get better isn’t usually pretty, it’s often compared to folding laundry because it’s a lot of the time, it’s boring. It’s not glamorous. But, through consistency, it works!
When those breakthroughs do occur, they lead you on a path to new and greater potential breakthroughs. One level gives you access to the next. Each training block builds on the next. The journey has no end, but it starts with surrendering.
Add Intention to your runs
On easy days, add a “smooth and efficient” intention to underlie the workout so each movement has purpose and builds toward your long-term goals of being a better runner. On harder “Wednesday Workouts” or on “Saturday Long-Runs,” embrace getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Use this as an opportunity to add positive, “I pushed through” experiences to your self-belief bank so you can squash self-doubt during a big race or tough workout. Always add an intention to even your most routine runs. These small goals can help keep training fun and sustainable.
Commit to better sleep hygiene!
When it comes to sleep, 6.5 hours just doesn’t cut it. Prioritizing sleep is one of the most powerful tools an athlete has for staying healthy and ensuring growth year after year. Sleep is your swiss army knife of biology! Brush up on ideas to help develop better sleep hygiene right here: the most important recovery tool is sleep!
Embrace your rest day
Get excited for your rest days and always rest with purpose. Be confident in knowing that by resting you’re giving your body a chance to recover and adapt to all the rigors of training. Don’t overschedule yourself on your rest days and reduce your errands and workload when possible. Kick those feet up! Your rest day is where all the adaptations from your consistent workouts take place, it’s your most important training day of the week!
Develop a support system
One of the best ways to stay focused long-term on your running/endurance journey is to join others in theirs. Surround yourself with people who understand your path. Work with a coach. Community helps build accountability. Accountability is the supporting foundation of all consistent training. Consistent training is the cornerstone of long-term growth. Positivity is a performance enhancer. Dispense high fives and heck yesses with reckless abandon!
Acknowledge negatives but accentuate the positive
Bad days happen. Bad runs happen. Not every run is going to feel good, nor will every race. You’ll trip and fall many times, show up prepared on race day and fall short of your expectations. Equally so, you’ll experience the bliss of a personal best, a podium finish, the elation of a workout “in the zone.” Accept the negative and move forward. Accentuate and hold on to the positives. They are both equally part of the process.
Set priorities and make commitments
How you prioritize your training makes all the difference in terms of how you will grow in your athletic journey. Do you wake up each morning with your first thought being “how will I fit my run in today?” Making a note in your schedule for the time and executing on your plan. Or, do you wing it? Sometimes getting it in, or part of it, or sometimes just not even getting out the door? Your goals need to reflect the kind of life you want to live. Committing to a 100 miler is amazing. But, are you ready to train for 10 hours a week for 12 consecutive weeks with the consistency and long-term approach this race demands? Do you have the training and experience background for this kind of commitment? If yes, let’s go! If you’re unsure, or have tried before but fallen short, pick a goal more appropriate for your time restraints and build up to that 100 miler over several seasons with intermediate goals. Commitment to the daily process looks different for each athlete, but commitment and prioritization underlie each day, regardless of the goal.
Growth happens in the empty spaces
Embrace long periods without races and long periods without what seem like breakthroughs. Racing inherently forces the athletes to steer away from the long-term focus of becoming a better runner over time through the process of taper, race, recover and the build back into steady training required by the event. Choose your races wisely and embrace long stretches of months between each “A” goal as uninterrupted times for training. This is where growth happens and where consistency shines. It’s in the days where you don’t feel yourself actively improving, sometimes simply grinding along, that provides access to the next level. Know that in the process, and running in general, getting out everyday is the ultimate form of self-belief. It’s those small steps that provide the impetus for achieving your big goals later. Space is one of the most important aspects to your long-term running and endurance dreams.
Eating is training
Avoiding low energy availability and same-day calorie deficits are critical for runners and endurance athletes for long-term growth and sustainability. Relative energy deficiency (REDS) can have dramatic effects on your health. Food is your friend. Establish a positive relationship with movement, body and develop a trust of hunger and food. When you sit down at the dinner table, try not to put labels on what you eat. Your body needs fuel to get you through your training. Always eat enough.
Seek joy, not runs that are perfect for your next “A” race
Joy is the most sustainable element in training. Finish a run feeling good, elated, “high” and I guarantee you’ll be 10 times more likely to want to run again tomorrow. Finish feeling low or beat up and that next training day seems like a momentous ask. Over time, prioritize runs that are interesting to you, that challenge you, but most importantly runs that you think are fun or will elicit the most joy. It’s these kinds of runs that will keep you coming back week and month after month for years.
Consistency over time is king!
Running is SO different compared to other endurance sports because aerobic development involves substantial impact forces as well as economy of motion. What this means is that you have to find the perfect training balance between constant practice, which inevitably causes breakdown from miles run, while also optimizing your form, running economy and aerobic development. Because of the serious and unavoidable impact and pounding the musculoskeletal system takes from running, these neurological and physical adaptations have to take place slowly over a long period of time. This means many, many, strategically planned training sessions full of easy running which minimizes the risk of injury and a sprinkling in of higher intensities to help iron out issues with form and increase economy. These two things together, when done slowly and consistently over time, help to build economy of motion and resilience to the impact forces our sport demands.
To make consistency work for you, prioritize showing up everyday over months and years rather than hammering home a few epic Instagram worthy adventures each season. To truly get better, it’s all about continuing to show up. It might not be glamorous, it may not be a cool summit selfie every day, but getting that work done and stacking those bricks always gives way to the biggest returns.
In a quiet place, close your eyes, take a few deep, grounding yoga breaths. First visualize yourself a month after consistent training. How do you feel? Now, do the same thing for three or six months of consistent training. How do you feel? Really try to visualize yourself running smoothly, with good form and light strides. Now, visualize yourself a bit further down the line after more uninterrupted training. You’re tackling a goal or objective with the strength and confidence that comes from completing the training those goals require. How do you feel?
Self-Belief trumps all!
Pushing through that tough Wednesday Workout to stack another brick in your training wall, that’s self-belief. Heading out on your Saturday long run, even though it’s pouring rain, because you know getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable will set you up for success in that next 100 miler, that’s self-belief. Showing up every day, despite setbacks, plateaus and evidence that says “you aren’t improving,” that’s the ultimate form of self-belief.
None of us have to train. We WANT to train. We train because it helps us live the lives we want to live. It’s empowering! We want you to know, self-belief in training and life trumps all. Belief that you CAN accomplish your goals is far more powerful than having some kind of innate talent that may make that goal a little easier to achieve. Start building up that self-belief TODAY by taking experiences from tough days and adverse situations where you responded positively, where you persevered, didn’t quit, and made it to the other side. Those experiences are the FUEL the process runs on.