07 April 2007

Personal Excellence & Pain

This week I'm going to run through some thoughts on recent emails, personal excellence and race pain. I'll then pull it all together with some thoughts on the Bottom Line.

But first, our photo this week is Dr. John Hellemans. This shot is going up on the "wall of fame" in our yoga room. Hopefully, John will come by for a visit some day and sign the shot. Of course, he has doctor's handwriting so it could be tough to read what he actually writes!

John is one of those people that, by merely knowing, causes us to lift our game. I don't know the date of the photo but John is in his 50s now (with at least seven world AG triathlon titles) and, if anything, his legs are slightly _more_ muscular today.


Mail Bag

My last piece generated a fair amount of email and I'll respond over the next month. I'm quite backed up on email and that can be tough for me. However, clearing my in-box fails to make my personal Top Ten list so I'm having to make some emotional adjustments.

Do I "need" folks to "believe" me to achieve my goals? No I don't. What I am doing here is sharing ideas that have helped me in my personal journey. Passing along little things that I've learned about achieving what I want in my life. They might help you, they might not, but they have been fundamental in a huge personal transformation.

The purpose of my writing here is:

>>>to affirm within myself the tools, techinques and patterns that I am using to achieve personal excellence

>>>to share ideas for you to achieve personal excellence (be it athletic, financial or in some other sphere)

My mail bag on my endurance protocol tips was fascinating. The various writers noted that the tips didn't apply to them because:

...they were too slow
...they were too fast
...they did not have enough endurance experience
...they had too much endurance experience
...their friend had different heart rate data than them
...there was a small piece of "the plan" that didn't make sense
...they have a different training history to me

One point that I will address -- that Mark and I were in similar positions when we started the protocol -- and -- that this position is different to where you may find yourself.

If you listen to Mark talk about his approach then you'll find that he was at the opposite end of the endurance spectrum from me. Specifically, his top end numbers greatly dominated his low end numbers.

Even if you don't think that you are "fast" nearly everyone that comes to endurance sport is in this relative position. You are in the same boat as Mark.

My story is a little different. I came to triathlon with low end numbers that dominated my top end. This is probably because of my pre-triathlon endurance background (strength training, hiking, mountaineering, ultrarunning) -- I logged many low intensity hours of endurance training. I spent five years primarily training under my aerobic cap -- before I knew that any such "cap" existed.

This is what's fascinating for me -- my VO2-Max speed is the highest that it has ever been using a protocol that well-meaning folks tell me is only designed to benefit my "low end".

I encourage you to try the protocol that YOU believe is best. Don't take my word for it. I have tried many different approaches and, ultimately, we answer to ourselves. Make sure that you can hold yourself accountable to your program and remember that you are using YOUR protocol, not Mark Allen's, not your coach's, not Joe Friel's, not mine.

Every day, you create your own protocol. The people around us are merely guides, they don't do the work on our behalf.

Of course, if you postpone "training smart" until you are "fast" then you might be waiting a long, long time.

The only workout that you truly control is your next one.


Personal Excellence

K.M. asked me about my thoughts on striving for our highest potential. I've been thinking for the last week and here's what I managed to come up with.

The concept of achieving our highest potential seems to approach the "problem" backwards because "achievement" is a perceived result, not a path to follow. Achievement will never offer satisfaction because it is merely a fleeting moment in time -- a life committed to excellence could be what we are seeking.

One of my greatest lessons of athletics is that we have no idea of our highest potential. Specifically, we have NO clue what we can achieve over a five, ten or twenty year time horizon. Some personal examples...

Eighteen months after I started training for triathlons, I qualified for Hawaii at the Half Vineman (July 2000). That FAR exceeded my 1998 perception of my highest athletic potential.

Three years after qualifying at Vineman, I ran 2:49 off the bike at IMC, posting the fastest run split on the day, finishing third and passing a future World Champion in the last 10K. That FAR exceeded my 2000 perception of my highest athletic potential.

In 2004, I ran 2:46 off the bike and finished in 8:29 -- the guy that won that day posted one of the fastest winning times in the history of the event -- I was 107 seconds behind him on a day where I had a flat tire. That FAR exceed my wildest perceiption of my highest athletic potential.

So, my experience is that aiming for our highest potential will ALWAYS sell ourselves short, because we sell ourselves short.

Our limited perception of what we can achieve is our single greatest obstacle.

What to do?

Rather than trying to "achieve" -- what I do is focus on personal excellence in areas of my life that provide me with satisfaction, support and meaning.

Personal excellence is about how I handle the little things. Some examples:

Monica -- experience love, hold hands, kindness
Winning an Ironman -- live sober, train regularly, limit travel, wake up early
Swimming -- breathe second stroke off the wall, three stroke breathing, push straight back, hip over
Cycling -- smooth circles, hold position, commit to cadence
Running -- ribs down, toe through, thumbs up, spine long
Nutrition -- real food, slower eating, frequent meals, internal healing
Personal Finance -- cover overheads, always save
Personal Investing -- preserve capital, trustworthy partners

Now all that sounds pretty simple but, I assure you that it is FAR from easy. In fact, to achieve success requires the support of many people and these people will very quickly see through hoax-commitment to excellence.

When I feel pain, it is most often due to knowing that I am not measuring up in terms of the simple things required for personal excellence. Real pain comes from knowing that we are not measuring up to our highest potential.

...and that explains a lot of angst in the world.


Race Pain

A good friend shared some ideas that he gave a mutual buddy on coping with "race pain". They were excellent and centred around:

>>>Enduring to share, and honour, the pain of a loved one
>>>Enduring to achieve an important goal
>>>Enduring due to fear of failure
>>>Enduring because the emotional pain of "cracking" would be greater
>>>Enduring to uphold a personal honour code

All of the above are excellent short term techniques for dealing with the sensations and emotions that we experience within a race situation.

My long term solution for race pain is a bit more simple.

There is no pain, only performance.

"Pain" is our mind's classification of feedback that we experience in training and racing. Appropriate training/racing intensities are going to feel a certain way. If we choose to classify, and constantly affirm, that we will experience pain then... pain is what we receive. You will get what you desire.

However, if we accept that there will be certain sensations associated with taking actions that are deeply important to us (training, racing) then our breaking point will increase dramatically.

At the early to moderate stages of discomfort, "pain" is too strong a word (for me) and gives an unnecesary emotional content to how things are going to feel.

At a clinic a few years back, Josh Davis (multiple Olympic medalist) shared his views on the essense of swimming. He summed it up along the lines of... moving through self-imposed pain barriers.

Many great athletes equate performance with reseting their own concepts of an acceptable level of personal discomfort. In Penticton one year, Dave Scott described Ironman racing as "managed discomfort". He refused to accept that Ironman racing was painful.

Focus on performance, leave the pain for the athletes behind you.


The Bottom Line

The reason that someone may be faster than "you" mostly has to do with the fact that they have absorbed more work than you. So if it all comes down to work (Landis, Lydiard, Molina) then why bother with protocol at all?

An effective protocol is what enables us to improve relative to ourselves. My true "protocol" is one of learning, sharing, experimenting and applying. I'm constantly looking for techniques, motivation, situations and people that will help me complete more work.

It is a fascinating subject because excellence at every given moment is a tough companion -- however -- to achieve a level of "greatness" we merely have to keep moving forward striving for those simple elements of personal excellence.

Moving forward with consistent application of principle based performance.

Happy Easter,

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