What my parents taught me about raising healthy, happy and self-motivated athletes

At 40 years old I’m scaling back my racing focus for the first time and the lifestyle of my most recent sport, that of a Professional off-road triathlete – although I love training and racing too much to ever “retire”. Meanwhile my 3 x Olympian brother continues to race his mountain bike after 22 years and counting with in his words, a motivation of “increasing complexity”.

While there are many factors that have kept both of us active and competitive since our first competitive beginnings in track and field club at the ages of 10 and 12, I would give a lot of credit to our parents and how we were raised.

After several years in the motivation lab at the University of Ottawa to complete my doctorate, and having worked with athletes over the past 10 years, I’ve heard about the pressures from parents often enough. Of course, the majority of parents have well-meaning intentions. But I can’t help reflect on a few things my parents definitely got right, which I believe have made a lasting and positive impact on sustaining our self-motivation, and I hope I can do the same with my children.

1. Our parents participated alongside us. On weekends growing up in the earlier days we did family runs. As our two border collies zig zagged in and out of the woods in front of us we ran several miles as a family on the roads and trails in Courtenay, B.C.. We cross-country skied together, did breakfast runs with the local running club together. My parents chaperoned the local kids to many track meets. My dad shot hoops with us, played soccer in the back yard. Both parents got into mountain biking well before I did when my brother started racing his bike.They are still mountain biking, xc skiing, hiking, swimming etc as they head into their seventies.

2. Give lots of free time to play. We were lucky to grow up on 10 acres of land with lots of forest to build forts in and climb trees. While of course there were some structured activities like swim lessons and soccer, my happiest memories are just free time play shooting hoops or running around the yard. My brother spent hours juggling the soccer ball or hopping over the picnic table on his bike. With plenty of playtime, there was room for self-discovery, curiosity, and creativity – all foundations of self-motivation. For one winter in high school I attempted to play club volleyball, high school basketball and continue my winter base training for running. It was all my own doing and after getting totally burnt out, I chose to drop the volleyball. It was a glimpse of how many over scheduled kids must feel all the time today!

3. Be more interested in the story than the outcome. Whatever sport we were doing, our parents took an avid interest. On top of participating with us, they were students of the sport and huge fans. They have always been most interested in the story of the day versus the end result. (e.g. How did it go? What was your workout today? How did you feel today? Not “Did you win?” or “Why didn’t you do better?!”). They’ve always known enough about our developmental stage, the sport, and the competition to understand what a truly good or off-day meant. I still appreciate that I can call up my Dad, say I smashed a track workout, tell him my times and he’ll get it.

4. Leave any “critiquing” out of the parent-child relationship. In contrast to the last point, I don’t recall my parents handing out any criticism or “coaching” type tips unless I specifically asked. Their unconditional support has primarily been through the role of being the patiently guiding, active listeners to let me express my feelings, and do all the problem solving on my own. All my choices in sport have been self-driven. As a female athlete I also need to give a big kudos to my mom. While many athletes struggle with body image to some degree or another for various reasons, I admire my mother in that she has not once put herself or her body down or once made ANY comment about mine. I cringe when I hear other female athletes say, “I’m so fat” or “Look at that girl, she is SO skinny”. I’ve even caught myself thinking or saying similar comments. I try to mindful of never making such remarks in front of my own daughter.

Thank you to my parents for continuing to lead by example, and for your continued support and unconditional love!

What drives you from the inside out?

Whether it be work, school, sport or any other arena in life where one needs to perform, the prevailing motivation view is typically, “reward me and I’ll work harder.” But is that how motivation really works? Not always, at least for the longer term for motivation sustainability. According to my favourite view of motivation, which is well grounded in science with an abundance of research around the globe, Self Determination Theory has demonstrated well that the psychology of motivation is innate, universal across cultures and evident for any age or developmental period.

When your motivation is self-determined, you have high levels of intrinsic motivation. And why is it important to pay attention and cultivate intrinsic motivation? As opposed to the other end of the motivation spectrum being extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivation has proven to be associated with higher quality motivation, specifically better learning, more interest, greater effort, higher self-esteem, increased life satisfaction, and enhanced health. In sport, intrinsic motives also correlates to increased persistence and higher performance.

To cultivate your inner motivation, consider the three following types of intrinsic motivation below. If your motivation is wanes from time to time consider getting in touch again with any of these types of intrinsic motivators:

1. Knowledge. In the context of sport, what peaks your curiosity? What do you seek to understand better? (e.g. training science, nutrition, technology, new and innovative techniques?) What kinds of novelties and creative approaches to your life as an athlete keep your motivation fresh?

2. Accomplishment: Do you take pleasure in surpassing your previous self and personal bests in training or competition? Do you enjoy the ongoing challenge of mastering all the skills essential to your chosen sport? Can you take pleasure in the journey of becoming more and more competent at what you do?

3. Stimulation: Anyone who has ever called themselves an athlete, knows sport can be full or highs and lows. Intrinsic motivation for stimulation means focusing on that drive to experience excitement, the adrenaline rush of pushing our comfort zones, the challenge of putting it all together for a peak performance, and experiencing the optimal challenge-skills balance of being in “flow”.

Intrinsic motivation is experienced in those moments when you are simply enjoying the pleasure and satisfaction of doing your sport. Getting in touch with your intrinsic motivation means connecting with those moments of pure enjoyment, embracing the challenge, cultivating what is interesting and exciting, letting go of any fears of failure and doing your sport simply because it feels good!

Motivate Me Coach!

I started working with my first memorable coach on a year round basis at the beginning of Grade Seven (yes, that was you Darren Skuja!). I joined our local track and field club, the Comox Valley Cougars – which is still going strong by the way! The year prior I had competed in some of my first track races through school. I remember one in particular, an 800m, how much it hurt and how much my lungs burned afterwards. A swimmer had won the race, and I finished around 3rd or 4th.  All I know is that race ignited a competitive fire inside and the desire to see what I could do if I actually trained for the race.And I wanted the guidance on how to get strong and fast over the off-season.

Over my twelve competitive years as a runner I was truly lucky to have some amazing coaches. They were positive, encouraging, and truly cared for the whole athlete. Most of my coaches have run alongside the team, and even continued to compete. They were passionate about their sport and willing to share their wealth of knowledge. As a mountain bike racer, my very knowledgeable brother (much in thanks to his longtime coach who imparted everything he knew to Geoff) was my coach. It got me thinking about how great coaches can pass on enough knowledge to help their athletes become more and more independent, self-aware, and self-motivated.

During my doctoral studies my lab studied all things motivation. One particular theory at the center of it all is called Self-Determination Theory. Through a plethora of studies in many areas, in sport this theory explains how the coaching relationship can foster self-determined motivation, or more internalized motivation and all of its positive consequences. Through meeting three basic psychological needs; our needs to feel 1) autonomous, 2) competent, and 3) cared for, coaches can truly impact motivation for better or for worse. Here is a great synopsis video on Self-Determination Theory and how coaches can apply it in practical terms:

As a mental performance consultant I have observed Self-Determination Theory in action. The best, motivational and inspiring coaches truly listen to their athletes, value athletes’ feedback, don’t show favoritism, and care about their athletes in and out of sport. On the contrary, I have worked with athletes frustrated because they crave knowledge and their coach gets defensive whenever questioned, provides more negative criticism than constructive feedback, and/or does not communicate clear expectations.

As I continue to train and balance it all with a family, I still value the incredible motivation my current coach, Calvin Zaryski provides me through constant new training challenges. I’ve been with my current coach for eight years now. He always incorporates my feedback and “scheduling stressors” into my training program. I believe a great coach respects the impact life in general can have on physical training and recovery! There should be room for flexibility and modifications on a daily and weekly basis, we are not pure physical robots! As athletes we need to trust the growing knowledge and self-awareness we have of our own bodies. And along the way the best coaches often wear the sport psychologist cap when needed as we figure out the athletic journey together! Having a coach I trust in helps take the thinking out of training. I do what is on the plan, albeit with modifications and changes as needed and communicated with my coach. I haven’t been injured in forever (knock on wood!) and I credit that to a highly educated and personally experienced coach who knows his stuff, knows when to push me beyond what I think I can do in a workout, and when to wisely hold me back, when I might have thought more would be better!

With summer race season around the corner, be motivated and confident by working with a coach you continually learn from, listens to you, and in whom you trust can help you better than you can help yourself prepare for race day!

Motivation and Momentum through Motherhood

Yesterday afternoon I was kitted up to ride. Then I dozed off on the couch while my kids played noisily around me. My legs were still hurting from the previous day’s running intervals on the track. It felt so good to just lie still for a while and close my eyes. I could have stayed there and skipped the day’s planned intervals on the bike and had a nice dinner with my family. No one would know or care, and my coach is afar in Calgary. But because I hate the feeling of quitting, I finally got up, had a little coffee to get me going and jumped in the saddle. The week’s intensity had added up and it was one of the toughest workouts I’ve done in a while, physically and mentally.

I believe I’ve been an athlete long enough to know when throwing a day of training out is a good idea, and a rather smart idea in the overall scheme of things. But I also know when I just need to suck it up, take it one step, or interval at a time, and just see if I can do it. And I did it! It feels good, and such days put mental toughness in the bank! Especially after those low moments now and then, when I say, “Why am I still doing this?!”

Seven years ago this month, I won the athlete lottery and was welcomed on the Luna Pro team at the annual team camp aka take a few photos and get spoiled rotten with racing gear. My daughter Zoé was six months old and it was the beginning of, “lets see how this training and racing things goes again after bringing a child into the world”. And here I still am, two children later, and a year away from 40! Really?! Since then I’ve always told myself I will race as long as I’m still motivated, still having fun, and it still works with my values of balancing it with my family. Thanks to the incredible support of the Luna team and my family, I can continue to say yes to all of the above.

March 2008

March 2008

Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

I know I won’t race for Luna forever (well maybe, some of our team members have outstanding longevity – very inspiring!) or always race Pro, but I’ve learned I love training, pushing whatever my current limits are, and setting racing goals to motivate me. I know it is a lifestyle that I won’t easily give up. I’ll never be content to turn into a couch potato or just exercise 20 minutes a day in my athletic “retirement”.

I’ve also learned to appreciate all the advantages and positives of coming back to training and competition on the other side of childbirth. The first thing I learned was how much energy training gave me back! The demanding first blurry eyed months with a newborn left me feeling more like napping than getting out the door to train. But I was surprised often at how good I did feel once I got going. You are stronger than you think new moms!

Making Racing a Family Affair, July 2011

Making Racing a Family Affair, July 2011

Through ballooning up with twice with two very healthy sized babes in my belly, losing all my core strength and then starting all over again to get my fitness back I’ve learned a little more patience. And that getting back into race shape is most about how you feel, and the satisfaction of having strength, stamina, and speed come back through persistence, and plain hard work. I may never have a flat, six-pack again, such a goal is so passé anyways isn’t it?. It’s not about the numbers on the scale (best to throw that out!), or that go in your mouth – just eat often and well enough to nourish yourself and be reasonable with the treats is my motto. The only numbers I focus on are the training numbers my Coach Cal pushes me to shoot for, without him I would be deferring to my naturally lazy side, ha!

Many ask – how do you do it with kids? To be honest, I don’t know how I would still be doing it without kids at this stage of my life. My kids continually rejuvenate my motivation, put everything in perspective, and give more purpose to everything I do. They teach me to stay in the moment of everyday and focus on what is most important. They are what get me out of bed early in the morning to train so I have more time in the day to spend with them. While my body is stiffening up more with each passing year, Zoe and Nico have stretched me to grow in every way possible, and are my biggest cheering squad!

My fast growing kids, March 2014

My fast growing kids, March 2014

A Word About Willpower

Got big plans and personal goals for the new year? How long is your to-do list for the year?… As a graduate student, I came across research on ego-depletion and accomplishing goals, otherwise known as willpower or self-control and it is fascinating. The ingenious research studies have since been summarized in a great book titled, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, (2011). But for those of you who don’t have the time to read it, here is some of the best advice to remember when setting about accomplishing our most challenging goals for the new year. Growing your willpower or discipline muscles relates very well to training as an athlete.

1. Willpower is like a muscle. Like a muscle, your willpower becomes fatigued with overuse but can also be strengthened over the long-term through exercise. Just like physical training, when you push your discipline muscle at your optimal limit you’ll get stronger and can endure longer with less effort, but it also needs recovery too! What matters most is the exertion. If you struggle with a temptation and then give in, you’ll still be depleted from the resisting and because you gave in. So what are some tips to maximize willpower strength and avoid depletion?

2. Keep your goal list short. You only have one supply of willpower (or energy if you like) so spend it wisely. If you want to make a big changes in your life this year like the common ones of exercising more, eating better/less, overhauling your finances, or keeping a cleaner house, remember you likely won’t have enough willpower in the bank for everything on the list. Each time you are using up willpower to start a new habit, you reduce your capacity for other activities requiring willpower. Therefore, the recommended plan is to pick one resolution and stick to doing it well, that can be enough of a challenge if you want it to last! And the good news is that after 3 weeks to a month, it takes less and less willpower as parts of your new goal work becomes habit and takes less effort.

3. Plan effectively to budget your willpower. When you can foresee extra challenges ahead in your schedule (think high volume training for an athlete), other demands may need to be cut back to get through while staying healthy, in one piece and not too cranky in the end. And more importantly a specific plan (e.g. I will run 45 minutes on Tuesday at the park at noon with Fred) that includes when and where you’ll do something is way more effective than a vague one (e.g. I want to run more this year). Specific plans also avoid what is termed the Zeignarnik effect, referring to how when you ignore unfinished tasks your unconscious mind will keep fretting about them. You may have experienced this when you hear part of a song driving or in passing and then you can’t get it out of your mind for the rest of the day! Finally, if you follow plans that pre-commit you to a strategy (e.g. a dieter that says, “If there is a buffet at the party tonight, I will only eat veggies and lean protein) you’ll have more success developing a routine that turns into a positive habit. The same applies to athletes who practice pre-committing to well-practiced competition plans and strategies, allowing for a more automatic and energy conserving (sometimes in peak performance described as “effortless”) performance.

4. Rest, Food and Cleanliness. Although it may seem obvious, a well-rested will is a stronger one. So is one that is fueled by a bit of glucose (think about your experiences grocery shopping on an empty versus full stomach). Some great studies showed that higher self-control was exerted after having some food. While enough healthy food and good sleep on a regular basis is key, so is a bit of neatness. Some studies also found people to have greater self-control after seeing a clean desk than a messy desk, or even after browsing a neat and well-organized website versus a sloppy one. Environmental cues subtly influence our brain and behavior. Ironically, if you make it a priority to make the bed, wash the dishes, and pick your socks up off the floor you are helping yourself take the strain off of maintaining self-discipline in other areas.

5. Positive Procrastination. If you’re a big procrastinator try using the power of positive procrastination to improve your discipline. For example, some experiments showed that people tempted by chocolate managed to avoid it by telling themselves they’d eat it some other time. The “I’ll have it later” trick works better than trying to deny yourself something all together, and you may not even feel like it later anyway. Don’t feel like getting up in the morning for a workout? Tell yourself you’ll sleep in another day 🙂

6. Monitoring and Rewards. The more carefully you keep track of goals through self-monitoring, writing things down, and carefully tracking your progress with feedback the more success you’ll have. While it can be tedious and boring, there are also plenty of apps and websites to do the work for you these days! On the other side, rewards are important too. Small rewards along the way, as well as big rewards can be significant when achieving a big goal (e.g. an athlete who completes their first big race like a marathon or a smoker who has quit for a full year). Rewards for genuine accomplishments are most effective for promoting self-control in yourself or discipline in your children.

Overall, why is willpower an important virtue to pursue? I’ll finish with a quote from the book mentioned above,

“Self-control is ulimately about much more than self-help. It’s essential for savoring your time on earth and sharing joy with the people you love. One of the most heartening benefits demonstrated in Beaumeister’s experiments is this: People with stronger willpower are more altruistic. They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work, and to offer their homes as shelter to someone with no place to go. Willpower evolved because it was crucial for our ancestors to get along with the rest of the clan, and it’s still serving that purpose today. Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.” (p. 260)

Train with a purpose, race for a reason!

What keeps you getting out of bed or rolling out the door for a workout? Why do you race? Through some recent conversations, observations, personal reflections and my current streak of devouring athlete autobiographies, it seems apparent to me that the more we understand the purpose behind what we do, and have a reason to race or compete that is bigger than ourselves, the more focus, passion, enjoyment and “success” we’ll have – of course that depends on your definition of what it means to achieve success. As Andre Agassi wrote in his autobiography, Open,

But I don’t feel that Wimbledon has changed me.  I feel, in fact, as if I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing.  Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something that very few people on earth are permitted to know.  A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad.  Not even close (p.167).

In other words, if we’re only striving for the next “win” or high that comes with completing our next goal, with expectations that we’ll finally feel satisfied, happy, or that its all been worth it, then maybe we’re missing the point. And if we don’t understand the purpose of what we’re striving do to on a daily basis we won’t get the most out of what we’re doing – and yes, I’ve personally learned the value of quality of training, intention, and focus, over quantity since my children have come into this world!

In my world of triathlon training the purpose behind each work usually includes one or a few simple goals. Some days I leave the numbers behind (e.g. heart rate, watts, cadence, speed, distance etc) and fully focus on listening to my body, going the pace it wants to, and enjoying letting my mind wander, or being social (a mental break as well!). On the other end of the spectrum, for some workouts, it is all about hitting the numbers with maximal efforts requiring every ounce of physical strength and mental focus. While other workouts are somewhere in between, the bottom line is that if I understand why each workout fits into the overall plan and how it is preparing me for my next race, then I will get the most out of it!

If you’ve trained with purpose, you can arrive at a competition confident you’ve done your best to prepare and race to your potential that day. But racing is often full of pain and plenty of discomforts when you’re pushing your personal limits, so why keep lining up season after season for another sufferfest? Long-term perspective on what you are trying to achieve can bring a bigger meaning to it all. On the broader perspective I race for my children, to be accountable to staying healthy and promote a healthy lifestyle, to be able to give back to the sports I love, to enjoy the outdoors, for those who can’t or don’t have the choice to compete in sport, and (half jokingly) for professional development towards my own mental toughness training 🙂

Implementing Core Intentions

Well, if there is one thing you learn after childbirth, when you get exercising again, it is how much you use all those small core muscles to stabilize everything! After both kids were born, when I first started running again it felt like I was running with a jelly belly! It took at least six months each time until I felt everything was holding together solidly again when running, especially during speed work! And if you’re not strong from the core, it can lead to a bodily chain reaction of nagging pains or injuries in other areas. I came back quicker than ever after having my son and suffered some achilles problems for a bit as a consequence of a weakened core.

Every season, I have intentions of doing more core work as it is the foundation to having proper technique, strength, power and stamina in any sport. I realized this importance while mountain biking in the early months after having Nico as well, my back was often sore as it was doing all the work to stabilize me on the bike!

While I had a good start to regular core work as I began my winter training recently, as I write this I have fallen off the core wagon again! Unless I count all the box lifting I’ve done while moving houses the past week – and that’s my time excuse too, ha! My goal is to do regular core work 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 15 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much and as important as I recognize it to be, when the business of life and training sets in, and when I’m healthy and taking being injury-free for granted, core work is unfortunately the first thing to get dropped from my schedule. Oh, did I say schedule? Part of getting it done would be to put it in my schedule to start with! I’ve always liked the ring of “implementation intentions” an academic term related to the research of effective goal setting that means going beyond having the goal (or intention) to do something and planning the steps for how you will implement it – to consider where you will do it, how you will do it, when you will do it, with whom you will do it etc.

For now, I will focus on the how. Here are some of my favourite ways to work on core strength with enough variety to keep it interesting from week to week…

1. Swiss Ball Exercises. Coach (brother) Geoff put me on this program when I first started mountain biking. I do 10-20 repetitions of sit ups, right and left side sit ups (is this the right term?), back extensions, hamstring curls, and ball roll ups (from plank position with hands on the floor bring your knees up into your chest with the ball under the top of your feet) continuously rotating through each exercise for 10-15 minutes. Or build up to 45 minutes for a real trunk stamina challenge!

2. P90X. I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise DVD’s but my dad got into P90X and introduced it to me in the summer. The guy (Tony) is motivating and not annoying to listen to. Every exercise has a countdown timer too. My two favourites are Ab Ripper X, a solid and tough 15 minute core routine or if you have more time, the core synergistics workout is a good one that involves more dynamic and functional work with light weights and bands.

3. The Timer Mix. I set my watch to beep every minute and just rotate through any core exercises I can think for 10-15 minutes or more. Using a combination of ab work, planks, push-ups, side leg lifts, arm and leg work with resistance bands, the time goes by amazingly fast.

4. Yoga. In the past I’ve attended instructed classes, but since kids any “luxury time” to do yoga is usually with a DVD at home. On of my favourites is Baron Baptiste’s beginner Yoga workout. Unlike many yoga workouts that take well over an hour, this one takes 40 minutes and includes all the essential poses with a good core workout to finish it off. I love yoga for all the other things you can work on at the same time as well such as relaxation, breathing, mindfulness, and flexibility

5. Pilates. Not one of my faves because I’ve yet to try it but I must add it to the list as I’ve heard this is a great workout for core strength!

Hello Trainer! How can we get along this winter?!

On the first super cold, not really worth going outside day in Calgary the other day, I hopped on my trainer for my first ride heading into winter training. With no real

A garage ride my first year on the LUNA team, Photo by Mike Flynn

structured training plan in place yet, I had enough motivation to ride for about 45 minutes. Enough time to think about the fact it was only the beginning of the 4-5 month indoor riding season, sigh! For those of us triathletes and cyclists who live in the more northern latitudes and parts of the world where sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow are the norm for the winter months, riding with a trainer, rollers, or on a spin bike are usually the only options to giving cycling specific muscles a workout. Ever since I have called myself a cyclist or triathlete I have lived in the land of snow and ice, far from balmy Vancouver Island where I grew up and one can ride outdoors year round!

Over the last ten years, I have also experimented through trial and error as to how much and what kind of indoor riding works best in order to make it to spring still physically fresh and not mentally burned out! Here are a few things I’ve learned to do in order to keep pedaling nowhere as exciting as possible…

1. Learn and respect your indoor riding threshold! During my first winter training for mountain bike racing I was living in Ottawa and rode my rollers in the dingy basement of a rental house I was sharing with other students. Midway through the winter I found myself burnt out of indoor riding and had to take a little time off to refresh my physical and mental motivation to ride inside again. Although I’ve known a few mentally tough (or crazy?! :)) athletes over the years who seem to actually enjoy and/or can tolerate many hours per week of indoor riding, it’s best to respect how many hours per week you can personally handle mentally in order to optimize your time on the trainer and pace yourself until the snow finally melts!

2. Use every motivational tool you can. If you’ll be riding the trainer for several weeks or months at a time, it can be worth getting a lactate test done with a coach to find out your training zones with heart rate and watts. That way you can gauge your efforts, and monitor whether you’re overdoing it as well. While riding nowhere, rides that focus on your heart rate, cadence, and wattage can be welcome “distractions” to pass the time productively. Add in your favourite motivational music mixes and you’re ready to go!

3. Have a detailed ride plan. When I ride at home solo, a 90 minute plus trainer ride takes a lot less mental energy when I have a detailed down to the minute plan to follow. I’ll use one of my workouts after teaching spin classes for many years, or get one from my coach. With a variety of efforts (heart rate or watts), cadence, standing, sitting, and one-legged exercises to all taped to the wall beside me, the time goes by much faster with a quality, focused plan to follow.

4. Choose TV/movie watching or radio listening wisely. Some rides are meant to be just steady aerobic rides, and these ones can be the best ones to choose to watch a movie or TV or listen to the radio instead of rocking out to motivational tunes. I also like to spend time on my rollers instead of the trainer for these types of rides which also helps improve balance and pedalling coordination, as well as being closer to simulating outdoor riding. However, I usually don’t choose to watch TV during intervals since I associate it with relaxing and chilling out and I think my legs subconsciously start to pedal slower when I watch it – one exception would be watching Tour de France type footage where you can focus on matching the pedaling cadence. When first learning French I also learned that listening to French radio while riding to work on my comprehension skills only made me fatigue even faster while indoor riding because of the brain power depletion it took to focus!

5. Train with a group as often as possible. There is always more energy and motivation in numbers! If you can join or even teach a spin class for a ride or two a week, it keeps you accountable to keep riding and is a good change of scenery from riding at home. Group movie rides in a friend’s garage or basement are great. In Calgary, our Critical Speed triathlon training group does famous bimonthly 3-5 hour indoor brick sessions (a mix of riding, track running, stairs, and core conditioning) during the winter, which I could NEVER do on my own!

6. Cross-train! As related to point number one, when your indoor riding threshold is maxed out, cross-country skate skiing is my favourite method of cross-training. Even one day per week, things like snowshoeing, stair running, or even stairmaster and uphill treadmill running if you’re still stuck inside can be a nice change to the trainer while also still working on cycling specific muscles and strength.

A gorgeous, mostly vertical, snowshoe day up Sunshine in Banff

Skiing in Canmore with Zoe when she was 16 months old

7. Remind yourself of the few reasons indoor riding can be superior to outdoor riding. You can always periodically pump yourself up to ride the trainer with fun facts like it beats riding outside in 5 degree rain, its more bang for your time bucks, you can often push yourself harder than you might be able to outside by locking in the watts for intervals, and one-legged work, high cadence riding, and roller riding can improve your pedalling efficiency for when you hit the road again. It’s also not a bad time to remember the long-term perspective as to why you’re doing it in the first place, hopefully to prepare for a big event or some big races you have planned for next season! And of course it is our northerners secret to building mental toughness in the off-season!

8. Plan one (or two!) midwinter escapes to a warmer climate to train.  If you are able to, planning a welcome break to a warmer destination mid to late winter is always a great way to break up the indoor monotony and have a shorter term goal to work towards and look forward to enjoying the fruits of your indoor work. When I lived back east, a big group of us from Ontario would pile in our cars every year at the end of March, and drive down to South Carolina for a week of riding in Table Rock State Park. It was beautiful riding and great motivation to keep the winter riding up in order to be fit enough to handle the miles ridden that week. Now I enjoy occasional winter escapes with my kids to my hometown on Vancouver Island. And if you can’t escape winter, even a midwinter excursion to back country or xc ski for a few days can be just as refreshing!

9. If all else fails, ride outside anyway! If you’re lucky enough to have an old mountain bike that can potentially get covered in snow, slush, and salt, throw on some studded tires with extra low pressure, and on those slightly warmer winter days – called Chinooks in Calgary – take a spin on the bike paths on lightly covered single track trails and have fun practicing your balance. If you can ride where there is not too much ice, blasting down a snow-covered hill and trying to stay upright is a blast when falling into the snow won’t hurt one bit either!

Post-season blues or bliss?

Whether you’ve finished the one main event you’ve been training for, or several races as part of a season, it is completely normal to come down with a case of the post-race or post-season blues. If your “A” race is done, or the main event is over, no matter how well you did, there is a period of letdown. The event is finished, the race stories for the day are written, everyone has gone home and the party is over. You may feel as a child does, or you still do  :), after all the presents have been opened on Christmas morning. With the feelings of excitement, anticipation, planning and preparation for the big day suddenly dissipated, it is easy to feel temporarily lost.

Crossing the finish line for the last time in 2011

With my last race of season complete last weekend, I got thinking about what are the best ways to handle any feelings of post-race blues and make the beginning of the “off-season” as blissful as possible. Expecting and preparing for a bit of letdown time is half of the battle. Here is what has helped me enjoy and get the most out of this short period of re-balancing, renewing, and refocusing on what’s next….

1. I take some real time off training. I give myself permission to do absolutely NOTHING physical for at least a week to 10 days other than walks to the park with my kids and stretching. Usually, I get physical withdrawal symptoms earlier than that and feel like doing something. But I just wait until my body says, “I can’t stand this any longer, take me out the door for a little run at least!”

2. I indulge a little in all the forbidden foods I usually cut way down on when in serious training and racing mode. After a maximum of a few days of eating too much chocolate, chips, donuts etc the yuckiness I feel is enough to remind me why “everything in moderation” is the way to go and return to asap!

3. Before the off-season officially begins, I have a list of things I’m looking forward to doing, any projects I’ve had on the backburner all season. All those, “if I wasn’t training/racing so much, I’d take more time to….” Things like projects around the house that have been pushed down the priority list for several months as well as spending extra time with friends and family.

4. After some real time off, I start a fun “active rest” phase for about a month. When my body is itching to start moving agian, I do what feels good. I enjoy some “training” that might not be a regular part of my structured training routine, things like yoga, pilates, hiking, or fun social runs with no pacing/distance agenda. And I do enough so that the transition back to full on training again isn’t too painful.

5. Of course, part of the post-season blues are related to a sudden lack of goal focus. So it can be a fun time to take some time to plan out any events I’m going to compete in next season. I reflect on any races I’d love to do again, new ones to try, or ones I swear I won’t do again!

6. Once I’ve had a good body and mind break from sructured training and am feeling recharged, renewed and fully motivated to get back to work, it is time to sit down with my coach and get into the serious details of week by week training plans again. Of couse, I like to make sure this is well underway before the holiday season, so I can afford my beloved eggnog lattes and other occoasional goodies (in moderation of course) around Christmas!

When Less is More!

My coach and I finished our second workout of the day today keeled over and sucking wind. At the top of the narly, steep hill in the rain soaked woods Cal exclaimed, “I am VO2 maxed!”. Once we caught our breath and started heading back down the hill, we chatted about how it is that time of the season, now under 3 weeks out from the Xterra World Championship, when it is mainly about high intensity and getting sharp. Hence, the reason I was feeling pukey for the second time in one day, first on the bike and then running! It is the transition time where training takes less time, but the effort is more, maximally more some days!

The race season can be long. With my first race each year being as early at late March and usually finishing up by the end of October, there are many ways I’ve followed the principle of “less is more” in order to arrive at the end of the season at the most important races feeling as fresh (mentally and physically) and fit as I possibly can. Here are the top ways I like to apply the “less is more” motto as an athlete….

1. Its not the end of the world to throw a training day out! This is what my brother Geoff reminded me of every so often when he coached me in my mountain bike racing days while at grad school in Ottawa. Whether it be due to the accumulation of outside stresses, feeling on the edge of getting sick, losing too much sleep as the parent of young babes, or feeling under recovered, throwing a day of training out never hurts once in awhile, and is WAY better than losing up to a week due to being sick!

2. Applying “Less is More” is a personal thing! Learning to respect when less is more for you personally takes some trial and error, good self-awareness developed over time, and trust in the purpose behind the type of training you’re doing (another reason a coach can help you maximize that time!). Unfortunately a number of athletes believe if they just do more than their competitors, and do the maximum amount of training that they can then their “hard” work will pay off. Learning to balance the quality of training versus the quantity at the appropriate time of the year on top of balancing the overall training load with work, school, life, and/or family is a fine art that takes practice, and wisely erring on the side or “less is more” from time to time can be the key to staying healthy and seeing overall improvement.

3. Racing less for more motivation! I’ve definitely had race seasons when I reach the final month or more of racing and I’ve felt like I’m just going through the motions. The drive to compete and push maximally at the end of a long season of racing can be tough if you don’t pace the race season. Figuring out what is optimal for you as far as number of races to enter, and how much time to spend away from home racing can make the difference in ending the season without feeling like your competitive fire has burned out! Pacing the season sometimes means opting of fun local races (since there are SO many in the Calgary-Canmore area!) in order to take real breaks from the emotions of racing.

4. Sleep – less can be more! If there is anything I’ve learned since becoming a parent its that I’m capable of a lot more on less sleep than I ever thought I would be! In my early days with my firstborn, Zoe, I often felt like I’d rather take a nap than get out the door and train. But once I got going, most of the time I would feel great. And the workout would leave me with more energy than I started with! Of course, in line with point number one in this post, once in awhile a nap is more important than completed a training session. I’ve learned not to sweat it when I’ve been up feeding or changing diapers too many times in one night, and because I no longer have control over what time my “child” alarm clock will go off in the morning! 🙂 And as for sleep before races we all know that how much sleep you get the night before a race isn’t nearly as important as the sleep you get two night’s before! And getting up early on race morning can be a good thing to wake up your body!