Overcoming “The Wall” in Training

It is impossible to stick with something unless you derive more satisfaction out of it than pain and suffering.

For a period of time after graduation I joined UB masters swim which met Tues/Thurs mornings at 5:45am and Sat at 6:45am for workouts.  On these days I would crawl out of my warm bed to trudge through deep snow and get into a freezing car, drive to campus in the dark, then muster up the motivation to jump into frigid water to begin another long and arduous swim workout.  The only reason I did it was the feeling of walking out from Alumni to a generally beautiful sunrise and sense of accomplishment, ready to start my day (and fight sleep at my desk hours later).  That feeling lasted for a while, and I stuck with practice for a couple years.  As time progressed I began getting out of bed later, wasting more time getting ready, and performing worse in the water.  On a few occasions I remember getting to the pool, putting on my speedo and doing a lap of the pool deck before changing back into my dress clothes and passing out in my car for 30 minutes until I had to drive to work.  My will was strong but there was no desire to keep at it and at that point wasted effort outweighed any benefit.

Today there is very little that fazes me.  Five days a week I get off my bike and go running in the blistering cold, often times late at night, with very little resistance.  It doesn’t bother me, I usually enjoy it, but I can’t help but notice some people out there, especially resolution runners lately, and wonder what are they thinking?!?  Yesterday, as the temperatures hit zero in Buffalo I observed a runner out in shorts while driving to the gym to start my treadmill workout.  It’s one thing to be headstrong (I learned a lot about this from my years with UB XC, doing long runs outdoors year round and going shirtless the first time temps hit 65 degrees), it’s another to want to purposely torture yourself.  This type of activity will never promote longevity.

There are two important components that encourage working out in my mind, incentive and enjoyment.  As long as you have enough of these in any proportion to outweigh the misery you inflict you will join the minority that makes fitness a lifestyle and not just a trend.  At this point in my life I consider myself incredibly motivated.  I’m very aware of the fact that over the years I have rarely finished a workout and thought “that wasn’t worth it”.  In addition I rely heavily on coaching to keep me on task with my training.  I don’t know how people can commit seriously without at least some system to keep on track.  I give a lot of credit to my new coach for responding to every session I do (15+ times a week!).  Another important element is to never lose focus of why you are doing what you’re doing.  It’s hard to envision wading into water to start a race when all the lakes and ponds have frozen over, but warm weather will come, whether you’re ready for it or not.  I find something as simple as a picture, phrase, medal or calendar, purposefully placed, to do wonders for motivation in the off-season.

Through the years I’ve learned there are certain ways to make even the worst conditions or tedious workouts a little more enjoyable.  It’s impossible to overcome the monotony of a 4 hour trainer ride or 90 minute treadmill run completely but there are definitely ways to improve your experience.  #1 is music.  With the right play list, even on the hardest days, I often find myself craving another lap, especially in the winter while running lit snowy trails late at night.  The right beat can influence pace dramatically, which is good for road races but bad when certain songs come on, such as nostalgic music from my college days, and I start going sub six on a recovery run.  #2 is people.  Unfortunately I can’t do much outdoors with others because of individualized workouts but I’ve recently been getting trainer partners for long rides and it’s definitely nice to have someone to watch movies with and complain to for a few hours.  For the majority I think finding an exercise partner or club can be the most significant decision toward sticking with a routine.  #3 is the right clothing.  Anyone who knows me would say that I have a tendency to dress like a complete idiot for training.  I like to think of it as less of a taste thing and more to do with resources.  I have one or two cool race outfits (they’re usually done by Tuesday).  Then I dip into my reserves which includes old sweats and anything heavy to stay warm.  By Saturday I’m usually down two full loads of sweaty athletic apparel and have to move on to what I’ve vowed never to run in less absolutely necessary, my old college spandex, most of which is either uncomfortably shrunken, warn out or see through.  The last time I tried running in one of these outfits at work I was nearly called into HR.  The bottom line with clothing is if you’re comfortable you’re happy and will only suffer the pain of the workout, not having to worry about the misery of the conditions.

In Organizational Behavior we learned that it’s not the happy worker that’s the most productive, it’s the employee that feels their effort has purpose, and is meaningful to the success of the company that goes the hardest.  The most driven individuals I know are the ones that understand the benefits of their hard work and are able to demonstrate it with their accomplishments, racing or other.  I am certain that my hard work will pay off and it continues to drive me to be better in everything I do.

Happy winter training!

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