Embrace the F word

Embrace the F word

I spend too much time on social media. I tell myself – and my family – that I’m doing it for work. This is not entirely untrue. But I spend too much time on social media.

I’m a professional coach – that is, I get paid to coach – and I’m an amateur endurance athlete – I pay to play. So my social feeds are mostly populated by individuals who fall into one of those buckets. The nature of social media is exhibitionist, so it is natural that most folks want to put on a show:

A new race PR or podium photo

A ‘brutal’ workout

A new bike or piece of kit

Those posts get the clicks. When done well, they’re aspirational. What they are not is wholly honest. I mean, they do not capture the full picture. Often, the costs of that podium moment are many, many moments of doubt and insecurity. Success in a VO2max, leg-crushing, lung busting workout are ones that go totally sideways: workouts that end early, workouts that end in obscenities, in thrown water bottles…in tears.

I’ve seen athletes in those moments. I’ve been the athlete in those moments. It’s not a ton of fun. It doesn’t make for a glamorous Insta posts.

What it is, however, is reality. You want your best? This is the price. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

I say all this not to knock the folks for posting about success. I’ve populated my feed with success stories too! We’re all playing the social game. This is me saying that I will try to show and write about a good deal more of my training reality. All the swings and misses. All the failures.

To be clear, I am not looking for sympathy. I don’t want pity. I’m not in this to explore my vulnerable side. I just want to tell the whole story – the part that isn’t often talked about. About how much we all fail. And about how important that process is.

Here’s part one.

I’ve been running trails with the Salomon Toronto group since late summer. It’s super fun and great training! I’ve become a big trails booster, and the Salomon group is a wonderful fit for both beginners are experienced runners.

Last night, conditions were tough. We had a big – for Toronto – dump of snow over the weekend and some very cold air. The temperature during the run was in the middle single digits (Celsius, I mean – so high 30s for my American friends), which meant a lot of wet, heavy snow covering ice and mud. We took an ambitious route too, with some steep descents.

The first couple of times I ate it, it was funny. Then they got in my head. None of the spills hurt. I never did any damage, but I started to get the fear. The top of each steep downhill became a high-anxiety moment, with my last fall fresh in my mind. I wrote my own story: I ended up on my ass.

The Salomon group was super supportive. They were great. But I’m not used to being the weak link – the swimmer / cyclist / runner bringing up the rear or fucking it up. It was an embarrassing experience. I do not doubt for a moment that the folks around me thought nothing of it, but I did.

I’ve always encouraged folks I coach to use these experiences to learn and improve. Otherwise all you have to show for your failure is a bruised ego and a limbic system screaming at you to avoid similar future situations! You must learn from it. Only by not learning is the experience a waste.

So what happened last night? What could I learn?

Lesson 1: Pick you battles

It’s fair to say that while I was physically in a good space, mentally I was bagged. We are working on sleep training with our toddler Malcolm, so my own sleep is less-than-stellar. It had been a long day with doctor visits. The conditions were tougher than normal. You could not know what was under the snow. It was dark too, of course. All that – I figure – placed a greater cognitive load than my underslept brain was prepared to handle.

There’s not much I can do about the sleep that I am not already doing. So while this is my lived reality, I have to be careful about selecting workouts. And if I do chase something that’s a stretch for my skill set, be prepared to relive this experience

Lesson 2: Work on skills

I’m clearly not as competent at trail running as I thought! I can either never run in dodgy conditions – which is totally part of the fun – or I can learn to get better. I vote Option B. I’ve done night runs in the dry and even in fresh snow. I’ve done daylight runs in very slippery mud. So selecting one or the other and practicing footwork seems like the way forward here.

So there you have it:

  • I ate it, often
  • I didn’t like it and I was embarrassed
  • I learned something from it (hopefully).

Failure is part of the experience. It’s a key ingredient. I’m going to talk more about it.

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