Lessons from Rio

Racing well, racing fast & executing a set race day plan is fun.  We just observed 17 days of it in Rio.  Its what athletes worked hard for – so it should feel great and we surely saw those emotions on display!

But as we all know – beyond all the joy of the Olympics and the incredible athletic achievements, there are plenty of challenges.  Many athletes struggle to break through to that next level.  Whether you have now graduated to racing your event vs. just finishing, all the way to qualifying for something like the Olympics, Kona or Boston – it is always about progress and moving forward – to that next level.  Often just executing a successful day with all the little details (like no walking aid stations, avoiding too many calories, controlling the pace during the first half of the race or faster transitions) is a struggle for many come ‘the day’.  What does it take?  How can you take that next big step forward?  What will it take to get that next big break through?

For many endurance athletes its all about the mental approach they bring to their sport.  Whether triathlete, ultra-runner/swimmer, or any ultra endurance endeavors:  the mental approach is a huge untapped potential.  Key word here is approach.  It’s a mindset.  It is a set approach to how you, as an elite athlete, go about your day of training (Please remember: being an elite athlete does not require elite results.  Being an elite athlete is about how you approach your sport: you can match the focus, diligence, consistency and daily awareness that World Champions bring to their sport despite being a complete beginner. It’s a mindset!).

Some of the best athletes in the world have a few things in common – whether sprinters that race for a whopping 9-ish seconds or solo sailors out alone on the oceans for weeks on end.  We have all seen great athletes this week and so it is a good refresher what they all – across all playing fields – seem to have in common.

  1. All great athletes understand that ‘greatness’ is something that has to happen daily.  It means taking small definitive steps daily in their focus on excellence or diligence.  John Wooden used to teach even the best basketball players coming in to his program on Day 1 how to tie their laces.  It sounds ridiculous, but attention to detail and doing it right, by habit/routine is a common trait all great athletes have.  It’s the little details that add up to a great result.  So many weekend warriors have a great occasional workout.  But in order to achieve their best, a great athlete understands the great workout needs to be a daily norm, not the exception.  Focused training equals focused racing.  And focused racing means executing a successful day.  (The hidden benefit here is progression as well: what was a great workout now becomes the norm and elevates your definition of a great workout to an even higher standard!)
  2. All great athletes have a deep connectivity and purpose as to why they are doing their sport.  While many athletes focus and repeat good habits (recovery, nutrition, body work and technique), the best of the best have a deeper reason for being so engaged in the sport.  It’s a sense of mission, its that little extra when the days are tough, when the workouts suck.  Its a deep conviction that there is no quit, no matter what the consequences.  This doesn’t mean your training is dedicated to you grandmother or that you are raising awareness to a cause.  It’s a deep down set of values and reason as to why they will see it through.  ‘It might not be today or this year but I will succeed’…
  3. Patience – Great athletes – in all sports – are in it for the long haul.  It is a common thing in endurance sports for participants to do one or two events and then check it off their list of cool things to do. I have found this is indicative in many cases how they always did sports or in other aspects of their lives.  Great athletes understand that hard work today (while valuable) doesn’t necessarily mean results tomorrow – or next month etc.  Every year I coach busy working athletes that bust out 5-6 weeks of great workouts and then are discouraged when they don’t suddenly PR their next event.  Especially in ultra endurance events: there is no such thing as overnight success.  It’s a gradual, slow progress.  It requires discipline, diligence, humility and perseverance.  And luckily it does as it is what makes a great result even more rewarding a deeply satisfying.  The long haul approach is also what will separate you from the rest of your competition/peers.
  4. All great athletes seem to also understand the simple beauty in what it takes to be fast/successful/achieve the desired result: that hard work, consistency and focus can’t be faked, there is no short cut through this.  Daily deliberate training sounds so easy to say/write, but we all know its not.  It’s actually quite funny how simple their approach is.  We all know athletes that try the quick approach to success, try to hack the system, but we also don’t see them at the top, especially not in ultra endurance sports.  The sports in the ultra world are hard, and for anyone looking for a shortcut to success is quickly exposed over the long distances.  Nothing, absolutely nothing can hack into fitness: true, deep, aerobic fitness…Pay your dues every day, and your ROI will not only be results but satisfaction in knowing you did it the right way: Daily deliberate training.
  5. Failure.  All great athletes have failed.  It’s a part of every path that leads to the top.  Those stumbles, those DNFs, those races where walking was the majority of the ‘run’, those injuries, those bad workouts all help great athletes stay on track.  Failure reminds us what we are working for, why we are working for it.  Overcoming obstacles makes us stronger – helps us realize that the path is littered with challenges.  The path to great results must be hard, hence why it is such a rewarding, valuable, delicate path!  It brings out our true emotions to why sport is important to us.  Failure narrows our focus again on what our goals are.  Failure also motivates great athletes:  the “come back stronger” sensations are incredibly powerful.  If it were easy to achieve our desired results, then all this work is not very inspiring.  If it just took a little focus, a little desire, a little extra push to reach our goals, that would make the result less valuable.  Embrace the suck as someone has been know to say.  Understand that overcoming the obstacle is the entire point of it all.
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