• A-race planning when life doesn't cooperate

    If you race long enough, there will definitely be at least one year, and perhaps more, when training will be sub-optimal. For the goal-oriented athlete, it is tough to swallow less than stellar paces and placing for any race. Your mind wanders to what others will say when they look at the race results sheet.

    "What happened to Gale, how did she get so slow?"

    "Her training must be terrible."

    "She's making all kinds of training errors."

    "She has no discipline."

    You might begin to imagine what it feels like to be the slowest person in your training group. Visions of everyone leaving you in the dust taunts your day dreams. The past praise you've received from training partners, family and friends feels at risk. Your self-image and self-esteem feel damaged before training for the season begins, long before race day.

    I've had personal experience with this issue a number of times. The first time I recall thinking, "There is no way I can handle this workload and maintain the training regimen I've come to enjoy" was the year I wrote my first book. In subsequent years, there have been seasons that I had very big travel loads, particularly in 2003 and 2004.

    I've coached athletes that have struggled to manage training loads while dealing with activity schedules of young children, aging parents, injured spouses and increased job loads. One of my athletes returned from foreign travel two days before his Ironman, A-race. Jet-lagged and fatigued, he decided to complete the race, though he had little to no chance of meeting pace goals.

    A reader asked me, if it is it possible to plan for an A-race when you know months in advance it won't be an A-performance?

    It is possible and I'll help you with a few tips.

    Get your priorities straight. Is it more important for you take a step back from your training goals or to take a step back from your job or family? Would it make you happy to say, "I blew off my job (family) so that I could train for Ironman?"

    Race goals. If your racing goals have been pace oriented, consider aiming to complete a race rather than competing at the race. You can also consider doing a race with someone that could use your support and experience. Do it together, while staying within race rules.

    Focus on health. The combination of high life stress with high training volume and/or intensity is a recipe for illness or injury. In my personal times of high life stress, I decided the most important training goal was to stay healthy. I wanted to be able to do an aerobic workout four to six days per week and suffer no set-backs due to health issues. I reduced training volume and intensity and in hindsight I was happy that I did. Make a range for your goals, to allow some flexibility.

    No one is keeping score, really. Right now, without looking at records, can you tell me your A-race and time from five years ago? Can you tell me the paces of your closest competitors? I suspect the vast majority of you will have a tough time remembering your own race results, let alone other people's results. The message here is no one is watching and keeping track of your performances, stop worrying about what other people will think or remember. Those other people are consumed thinking about their own race goals.

    Focus on what is possible. If you're looking ahead to an upcoming race season that is booked with life stress, focus on what is possible. Perhaps shorter races? Fewer races? A long race completed at a comfortable pace rather than a race pace?

    After you take the performance pressure off of yourself and quit worrying about what other people might think, then you can enjoy all of the benefits provided by endurance sport. Pace and time goals can return another year.


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