Here is the second part of my Triathlon takeaways, covering lessons 4 to 7. Coming soon, part III and the formal launch of The LAB's new coaching unit!

In part I we discussed the importance of taking time to take care of ourselves, of listening to our body and of the critical role that recovery plays in sport and life.  In the second part of this series, I continue to explore my key take-aways from triathlons and training.  These might get a little more philosophical, but hopefully one or two of the lessons will resonate with you at some level.

So here goes…

Lesson Four:  Learn to live with cognitive dissonance  

This is one of my favorites.  The power of holding two opposing thoughts in your head at the same time and having them live there in peace.  WT???????  Yes!  I will give you an example, when training for a triathlon you have to constantly listen to your body while completely ignoring what it is saying. 

This means that I have to pay very close attention to what my body is telling me about its limits, while not being a wimp and pushing myself past those limits (at least a little bit).  It seems contradictory, but both are true at the same time. 

This doesn’t just apply to training, I see this all over the place…the importance of long-term strategy and the critical nature of short-term results.  The way I can hate the people I love the most.  This is a critical life skill.  Seeing the truth in both sides of a thought gives us a variety of perspectives to choose from and I believe it can lead to a deeper understanding of the complexity we increasingly face.

I perhaps need to get more practical now, and Lesson Five is as practical as it gets.  Set goals!  Set goals in life! 

Set physical goals, professional goals, personal goals…  Make them specific and MEASURE your progress.  Obviously, I am not the first coach to come up with this as a key to success.  However, training for the triathlon really drove this home.  The key to my success in a triathlon is in the training, the preparation.  The training plan is critical.  I put together my own training plan for each triathlon based on the many suggestions I find on the internet, and then I adjust it to my schedule. 

The important thing for me is that I have a GOAL and a PLAN.  My training plans always have three columns – one describes the workout, the other column is the planned distance or duration, and the third column is the actual distance or duration.  So, I measure what I do and I track my progress.  Without the goal, I would not push myself.  Without tracking my progress I would never be able to sustain the motivation and the momentum.  To me they go hand in hand and are a powerful tool.  So dream it, plan it and log it and it will happen.

Lesson Six:  Be honest, but not too honest

No, this is not a re-hash of cognitive dissonance, but there is a bit of that in here.  This one is more about goals and limiting beliefs.  In fact, this is a lesson I have learned, but I have not mastered it yet.  This reflection of “be honest” has to do with triathlons and athletic ability, but I see it in other areas of my life as well. 

As a kid I had terrible allergies and asthma.  I was never an athletic kid.  I was the allergy/asthma kid.  I thought of myself as un-athletic and un-coordinated.  I cannot explain why I decided to join the cross country team my freshman year in high school, but thank god I did.  I had a great coach and learned to love running.  Of course as someone who was naturally un-athletic, I did not excel.  I really enjoy it, but I was never very fast.  I am really steady and can hold a pace.  I can run for long distances.  That is enough for me.  Should it be?  I see a self-fulfilling prophecy here…  a limiting belief…   Which is why I say be honest, but not too honest.  Because sometimes our honesty is not honesty at all, but a self-limiting belief. 

So, don’t be too honest with yourself about your limitations.  The Paralympic Games are a perfect example of people who do not let their limitations, or perceived limitations, hold them back from reaching their full potential.

Lesson Seven:  Do not underestimate the power of hard work and focus  

In triathlons, as in life, no one is going to hand it to you on a silver platter. I am not a naturally gifted athlete.  Some people really are and that is an amazing thing to watch.  So inspirational.  But professional athletes, who are naturally gifted, still train A LOT and have incredible focus. 

Sometimes, if we spend our time watching or training with professionals, it can feel a bit like my favorite quote from Alice in Wonderland – where the Red Queen says to Alice, “You have to run very fast here to stay in the same place”.  So, this was a big learning point for me when I started to train for the triathlon…. That in fact, hard work and training really did pay-off in the end.  I thought I had reached the top of my game in running, but when I added the cross training it improved.  Perhaps it goes without saying that the improvement in my cycling and swimming, when I really started to train in those two areas, was amazing! 

When I started training for the triathlon I was really worried about finishing the race.  All I wanted to do was finish.  I over trained, I was so worried.  I could not believe how “easy” the actual race was in the end.  Of course, it was challenging and exhausting, but I finished with no problem and there was no point in the race where I wanted to stop.  There were so many points leading up to the starting line where I wanted to NOT START, but once the race was on, I was fine. 

The key for me here is two fold – first, the training got me there and I was physically able to complete the race.  Second, the training gave me the confidence that I could do it.  I am not sure which is more powerful in sport and in life – the ability or the confidence.  Hard work gives you both and together they are unstoppable.

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