Saturday, January 31, 2015

Good Mental Skills for Racing and Beyond

In my opinion, there is no more important athlete skill than solid mental skills.  Give me two athletes, one who is stronger physically and one who is stronger mentally, and I will bet on the second in every challenging race situation.

The sobering reality is that nine out of ten athletes will under-perform in a challenging race situation. They will not race up to their true potential.  Only one out of ten will meet or exceed their potential.

The key to being that one athlete that meets or exceeds his/her potential is to develop and practice mental skills as often as you practice your swim, bike, run, etc.

Critical mental skills include:

  • The ability to shake off failures and disappointments.  Relish failures as a chance to learn and improve.  
  • The ability to train and race with a "quiet mind" (do not over think or judge yourself while training or racing)
  • The ability to stay "inside the box."  In other words, do not think of your entire race all at once, break it down into manageable segments (like the next mile or the next buoy) and focus on what you want to be doing during just that segment.
  • The ability to be appreciative of your good fortune to have the ability, health and time to train and race.
  • The ability to embrace periods of feeling uncomfortable or vulnerable.  
  • The ability to feel deep satisfaction with your best efforts regardless of the place or finish time.
Developing these skills requires focused, repeated effort.  If you put in the time, you will earn the improved results in your athletic pursuits.  

You will also be better equipped to tackle non-athletic challenges.  This past week, a family member endured a dangerous and damaging house fire.  In the confusing hours and days that followed, these same mental skills helped both her and me to get through the difficult moments when our heads were spinning.  Shake off disappointments.  Quiet mind.  Stay inside the box.  Be appreciative of our good fortune.  Embrace feelings of being vulnerable or uncomfortable.  Enjoy a deep satisfaction in our best efforts.  These all apply to dealing with frightening house fires, insurance companies, rehab construction contractors and house fire cleaning companies.  

Mental skills...not just for racing!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

USAT Paratriathlete High Performance Camp

Banner over the OTC Olympic Pool

I just had the privilege of spending eight days at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center as a staff coach for a USAT High Performance Paratriathlon Swim Camp..  The athletes at this camp are by invitation only - because they are all genuine medal contenders for the 2016 Olympics.  We had two 90 minute swim sessions per day plus lots of meetings with USADA, nutritionists, USAT, USOC and other expert coaches from this campus.  We also met with each athlete to map out their strategy for earning the points needed to contend at this year's world championships and to earn our country slots for the Rio Olympics.
It was an outstanding opportunity for me to feed my coaching soul by learning from the athletes and from the other coaches.  We all shared our own knowledge and were all so glad to be there.  

Coach John and me in the famous OTC Cafeteria

These paratriathletes continue to  overcome challenges that most of us cannot even imagine.  Therefore, they are incredibly appreciative of every day and every experience.  They are a dream to coach - they absorb every suggestion and immediately begin practicing it.  

We can all learn from them.  Aches or pains?  A little tired?  Toying with the idea of skipping a workout?  They wouldn't and their "excuses" are much more significant.  As I wobbled out of the door in the dark this morning to run on my gimpy knees, I knew that I certainly was lucky to be able to run.

I am reading a book right now called "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown.  She talks about the correlation between dealing with challenges and the feeling of hope.  The more challenges that a person addresses and conquers, the more all-around hopeful they feel about life.  She also talks about being sure to not, "engineer your life to live small."  In other words, don't play it safe.  Go for it.  Most importantly, she advises us to "Dare to be vulnerable.  Dare to feel uncomfortable."  By doing that, you will likely feel much happier and hopeful about your life.  

So, I am excited about 2015 - for all of you, me and for these athletes.  I hope that you can use a little of their energy to help you to relentlessly pursue your goals this year.  Don't engineer your life to live small!  Let's live big together!
Hung out with other Olympians too

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mother Race; Spirit People

Some of my favorite people on earth

Mother Race; Spirit People

Think about the few people in your life that guide you to be a better person with every encounter and each conversation.  I crave time with these role models for life.  They share their rare, beautiful personality with the world, leaving inspired people in their wakes.  I once heard the term “Spirit People,” and I think it applies here.


During my life, I’ve belonged to many teams, occupations and organizations.  “Spirit People” can be found within any group.  But rare is the group that is predominantly composed of these wonderful people.  The Birchleggings Club seems all Spirit to me.  Birchleggers are Birkie skiers who have skied 20 or more American Birkebeiners. 


The Birkie is hard.  The hills are monsters.  The weather can border on dangerous.  The outfits are not glamorous.  Just getting to the starting line is an immense, uncomfortable challenge.  Getting to the finish line twenty or more times during peak flu season is improbable.  This “Mother Race” filters out the usual fair-weather, show-off-your-muscles-in-a-cute outfit, pace-obsessed endurance-tattooed crowd. 


The result is a concentration of all that is good in the sport of cross country skiing, maybe in America – a crowd strong on flavor and spiced with the knowledge that one day we will no longer be able to cross that finish line.  The entire club of Birchleggers is composed of my “Spirit People.” 


I’ve attended the annual Birchleggings breakfast eight times now, the first seven as the skiing wife of an official Birchlegger.  This year, I earned my twenty year award and the honor of belonging to this astounding group of people.  I’ve shed tears of joy and appreciation at all of these breakfasts.  The stories of the founders, the trials of the aging skiers, the sadness of the death or decline of many a skiing friend – all are both harsh reminders of our mortality along with joyful inspiration for what remains possible.


This year, I experienced the magic of the 20th Birkie.  My knee was painful and swollen-straight for the week of the race.  It made no sense to start the race last Saturday, but the tenacity of the Spirit People and the Mother Race took me all the way to the finish line.  I skied down Main Street with tears of joy and pride.  It was a goal that I had been working toward since one gray, snowy February Saturday in 1989.  I feel filled up with spirit.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Group Ski at the top of the famous VO2Max trail at Minocqua Winter Park

We are back in town. Up north, we had just a few moments for internet, almost no phone, no TV and no structure. Instead, I xc skied with my kids for 2-3 hours every day, then we played board games and gathered with our skier friends - a wonderful crowd of funny, musical, intelligent and like-minded people that we see just once a year up north. It was snowy, cold and beautiful. We saw bald eagles, otter slides and the tracks of a big pack of wolves that inhabit the area. I've attached a picture of a group of us on top of "Squirrel Hill" - a rewarding vista after 2km of climbing and before 3km of crazy descending. The skier with his poles in the air was diagnosed with stage 3/4 lung cancer (a non-smoker) a year ago.  Here, we are all celebrating life and the beauty of the winter woods.
The images of the winter woods and the cherished times with my family have now "filled me up." I am ready to go again - ready to coach, teach, write, train and parent.
Think about what "fills you up." When you are "full" of good things, the craziness of life just bounces right off of you. As we start this new year, make sure that you do what fills you up - family, friends, work, nature, books, music, etc. Don't skip those things for your training - it all must be in balance or your training won't be successful either.
But, at the same time, it is time to think again about your goals for 2013 and begin to pursue them in earnest. Without goals and the feeling of progress, I don't think any of us are happy. The holidays are over. The new year is wide open before us. What can we accomplish this month or this winter? How strong do you want to be when spring arrives? Visualize yourself at your "A" race this year. How do you want to feel on that day? Let this picture "fill you up" with purpose.
Remember that what we do as athletes is a privilege. Getting up in the dark to swim, bike, run or get strong is a privilege not an obligation. We have a choice with every workout: whether we feel lucky to be training for a goal or whether we feel the dread of the workout and the race. It is a choice. No matter what shape you are in (or in my case - how your knees feel), you can make the choice to feel lucky and get out there and train wisely.
Remember, we are the lucky ones.
I am lucky to be a part of your 2013 goals. Let's go grab those goals this year and have no regrets when it is all done!
Chris (who will be privileged to go swim after dinner tonight!)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trust the Journey

Eric is not too serious - even after winning a medal

One of my favorite swim coaches came to me in frustration yesterday at the Regional Swimming Championships.  She said, "Chris, you are also both a coach and a parent like me.  As a Coach, I can stay calm through all the ups and downs on the team, but as a Parent, I feel such exasperation with my own kids (who are swimmers) sometimes!" 

You parents understand this feeling and why it happens.  Take just the swimming example in my own experience.  To get to the Regional Champs this past weekend was a 12.5 year journey involving sacrifice, time and money.  Starting with the little kid swimming lessons and persevering through all the trials and tribulations of learning how to swim and swim well, to the costs each year for swim team for two kids, to the time sacrifice (and career sacrifices that I've made to be able to get my kids to all the practices), not to mention all of the athletic endeavors that I've skipped to be spend weekends at swim meets, we parents have a HUGE role in getting our kids to have a positive experience in a sport like swimming.  It is far too easy to get caught up in the moment and to believe that any one meet or race is an indicator of the success of the entire swimming journey. 

It is not.

I am so lucky to be both parent and coach to my own kids and coach/teacher to many kids.  So, my perspective is enriched by all of my own experiences.  (And I am far from the perfect parent or coach, trust me!) 

My advice to her was to "trust the journey."  The success of this wonderful project that is known as child rearing is not determined by any one moment or race.  One frustrating day at the pool does not mean failure.  There will be ups and downs in performance and in attitude.  They will love and not love certain practices and seasons.  They will plateau or even get slower during growth spurts and developmental changes.  There will be great coaches and not as great coaches that guide them.  There will be significant disappointments and seemingly insurmountable challenges.  And it is all of that that makes the project so darn wonderful when it comes together in a magical performance or season.
Be patient and wonderful things will happen

As parents, our job is to hang on for the ride, be patient and stay calm.  Trust the Journey - with all of the ups and downs.  We are the lucky ones!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rebuilding Time

On May 4th, I had arthroscopic surgery on both knees.  I had torn the meniscus on both knees - one in February and the other in March - both due to "age related degeneration."  The good news was that I was able to get both repaired in the same surgery - along with a little clean up of the chondromalacia behind both knee caps.  I should be good as new soon!

My orthopedic surgeon is a knee specialist.  He assured me that running did not cause my knee issues.  His opinion is that exercise is good for joints and knees.  As runners, we will not degenerate any faster than if we didn't run.  However, because we like to run, we will notice degeneration far sooner than a non-runner.  And at some point, we will no longer be able to run.

Until then, I've been rehabbing with enthusiasm.  And running on the Alter G treadmill at a fraction of my weight (what a wonderful tool!!).  At two weeks post surgery, I started swimming and it felt wonderful.  Swimming and kicking helped me to regain my range of motion and help my brain to start firing my quads once again.  I started cycling at the same time and after about a week, felt 80-90% of my strength come back.  In fact, it was wonderful to ride without pain for the first time all year.  And four weeks after surgery, I was able to do a local sprint triathlon.  I joined my son and husband, "Team Wolf Tracks," as their swimmer on a relay team.  Then, I did the solo race and learned to speed walk during the 5km run.  It was wonderful to be racing again, even if it wasn't up to speed.
Team "Wolf Tracks"

So, keep on running!  But make sure that you have other interests as well.  Because one day, we will reach the end of our running.  Treasure every run!  I will be so wildly happy when I can run without pain again - watch out!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Injury Frustration

I was feeling invincible.  I hadn't had a knee problem in seven years.  Then, in an ever so subtle way, my knee began to hurt.  Then, I noticed it was swollen.  What caused this?  I didn't know.  I looked over my training logs and tried to pinpoint the cause.  Was it the week that I went from teaching two bike classes to four bike classes?  Was it the slippery 15km train run?  Was it the impact from falling directly on that knee in the trail run?  Was it the 31 mile hilly American Birkebeiner race with no training that riled up my knee? 

I stopped running.  I rested.  I massaged.  I got electronic stim.  I got ultrasound.  I tried a warm, moist poultice of cabbage leaves.  I tried essential oils.  I tried EPAT sound shock treatment.  I tried Aleve for 10 days.  I iced.  I only used the bike that didn't cause knee pain.  I gradually brought back running but only on the Alter G treadmill under the advice of my doctor.  I ate an anti-inflammatory diet.  I tried a brace.  I tried K-T Tape.

Where did all that get me two months later?  Nowhere!  And now, my other knee hurts in the same spot almost as much!

At this point, my season is in jeopardy.  In fact yesterday, I had to race the New Orleans 70.3 just to the second transition and then turn in my chip.  There was no way that I was going to limp through a half marathon. 

So, tomorrow, I will get an MRI.  Hopefully it will tell me what is wrong and what I need to to.  Ugh!

Injuries are frustrating, painful, expensive and time consuming.  Don't mess around with a tight or sore spot.  Rest, ice and head it off before spending weeks or months recovering.