I seem to be hitting on a common theme in my last few posts — they’ve been about how tough workouts can be and the hard parts of our training. Today I’m going to take us in a related direction: keeping your workouts from becoming just plain “work”.
I was talking with someone last week who asked me whether I “enjoyed” all of the training that I do. I thought about this and started to answer along the following lines: “well, I do but. . .” and I had to stop myself. Where did that “but” come from. Do you enjoy what you do or don’t you?
The truth of the matter is that we can get lost in the massive pile of training workouts and lose sight of the things that we are working toward — the races that we get to do, the thrill of finishing a race, the friends that we make, the adventures that we have. But all of those good parts can be consumed by the work that it takes to get there.
In my head I had constructed the following reasoning: the workouts are all critical pieces in putting together a puzzle that is a finished race. Once I’ve committed to a particular race, I have to complete the workouts to get that puzzle put together. One the one hand this means that I’ve got a plan and I’m working towards it. On the other, it may mean that I’ve stopped considering the workouts themselves fun and enjoyable — they’ve just become one more thing to do in my life, something I’m working on. Work.
In fact, many people will think of their exercise and racing as something that relaxes them, helps them blow of steam or de-stresses them. How can this be true if workouts are just another source of work and stress?
And this is where the mental work that we have to do comes in. We need to keep clarity around our goals and what it is that we are working toward. If we can move into the space that each workout is making us stronger and faster, more prepared for our ultimate goal, then we have a reason for doing each and every one of those workouts.
I’ve often told people that “every workout should have a purpose.” This is very true here. Each workout should be an identifiable part of that puzzle that we’re putting together. We should be able to look at each and every piece of the puzzle and they should be in focus — a clear part of the picture. If the purpose of the workout itself isn’t clear then that puzzle is out of focus, like a photograph, and we can lose the ability to see how it fits into the puzzle. Each workout should be advancing your training in an identifiable way — making you faster, stronger, more fit — rather than just more “miles” or “time” to add onto the pile.
When we have a clear idea of what the puzzle pieces are, then from there we can see the whole puzzle with clarity as it comes together. “These workouts are advancing my goal toward my race” and we start being able to understand the meaning behind them more clearly. It is when we lose sight of both the meaning behind the workouts and the goals themselves that the “work” creeps into workouts and they stop being fun, entertaining, or a pass-time. They become a job and with that comes all of the stress inherent in a job.
The last time I checked most of us were not professional athletes who are racing as our “jobs” — our source of income. In this case, that’s a positive thing. You are freed from the stress of “work” when it comes to your workouts. You do this ultimately for fun and as a hobby — no matter how serious a competitor you may be. Even the most serious competitors can still have fun beating their rivals.
Spend some time reflecting and meditating on this question: are your workouts “work” or are they still for fun? If they are feeling like work, back yourself up and look at the bigger picture and try to return yourself to the space where they should really be: contributing to the fun part of your life rather than the stressful part.
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon USA
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