Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't Be a Quitter

By PCG Elite Coach Marianne Holt

It’s a beautiful sunny day outside, and after being on the trainer all week, you should be looking forward to getting outside to ride your bike.  Instead, you dread it, your heart just isn’t in it.  As a result, you fail to properly prepare: not enough fuel or hydration before, during, or after the ride; you get annoyed with the guy that loves to push the hills and coast on the downhills; things that you normally would barely notice elevate your heart rate 10 beats and cause you to suffer more than you should with this group.  You decide to take a shortcut and head home.  Once there, sitting in your recliner with chips and a beer, instead of the recovery drink you know you should have, the guilt starts to set in.  What’s wrong with me?  Why didn’t I finish that ride?  Why is my knee hurting? Why am I paying a coach to put me through this misery?

We all struggle with motivation at one time or another.  One of the first things I discuss with a new athlete is the importance of setting goals.  That vision helps drive you out of bed at 5am so you can complete your workout before the workday begins.  

Often by this time of year however, with the dark days of winter fast approaching, there are no events in the near future to look forward to and your 2017 goals are too far away to even think about.  You are giving thought to just quitting.  You question if the sacrifices you made this past season were worth the rewards.  Maybe you didn’t achieve the goals you set for yourself.  Or maybe you failed to even set goals?  You feel like quitting.  But, no one wants to be a quitter.

Sometimes a slight change in direction is just the change needed to reignite your motivation and training.
As an athlete and a coach, I have faced this scenario numerous times.  It hits at every level of the sport: UCI road team racers, local/regional racers, Masters racer, Gran Fondo riders, and others that are just trying to stay in shape.  At some time or another, those feelings of burnout, boredom, lack of motivation, etc. are going to hit.

What’s a burned out athlete or coach to do?  Often, just a slight tweak in the plan or goal, or even just a few days off, are all that’s needed.  Other times, if you really feel like quitting but don’t want to be a “quitter”, don’t beat yourself up.  First, realize that it’s OK and not unusual to feel this way.  Next, and most importantly, talk with your coach about it.  If you don’t have a coach, confide in a teammate, training partner, or close friend.  Have an open, honest discussion about how you feel, what motivates you to train, and how you might want to move forward.  Especially, DO NOT label yourself a quitter.  Shifting gears from road cycling to another cycling discipline or another sport is NOT quitting.  It’s looking out for your best physical and emotional well-being.  Maybe it’s time to try an entirely new sport.  

Below are some ideas for ways to reignite your passion:

  • Try a new cycling discipline: mountain biking, cyclo-cross racing and “gravel grinders” can be great training and perfect for the colder, darker days of fall and winter.
  • Cross-train: 
    • If you have a background in running, pull out your running shoes and get in some good weight-bearing work.  Just remember that you must start very gradually!  Your cardiovascular fitness for running far exceeds your structural readiness (think all of the small muscles, tendons and ligaments in your lower legs) for running if you haven’t run in a while.  After months or maybe years with your feet locked into stiff, carbon-soled shoes, it will take a while for those soft tissues to adapt to the pounding stress of running.  Start out with walking, run/walk, then running to avoid injury.
    • Swim!  If you have access to a pool, swimming is a great activity to maintain your cardiovascular fitness and give your cycling muscles a bit of a break.
    • Gym Classes, Boot Camps, Crossfit, Adventure racing, Yoga, Pilates, and on and on.

Hopefully you get the idea; the list is endless.  Just remember that taking a break from your cycling training is not quitting.  It’s just another step to becoming a balanced, stronger athlete.  The important thing is to be aware of the feeling and take steps to address it before you throw in the towel.

As a coach, I feel it’s my responsibility to pick up on the subtle queues from athletes that the feeling of burnout is on the horizon.  It’s often difficult for the athlete to bring it up to the coach, so I will often inquire and ask probing questions to get a better feel for the athlete’s level of motivation.  If I detect any burnout, I encourage the athlete to pursue some of the options listed above so they don’t become a quitter.