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This article originally appeared in Ultrafit's e-tips newsletter

Eliminating Barriers Through Self Evaluation

Think back to your previous seasons. If you didn't reach your goals, what prevented you from doing so? Was it poor planning, overracing, overtraining, or were your goals too lofty? Just as you should complete a written evaluation of each race you do, you should do a written evaluation of your season.

It's easy to look at the top athletes and assume they have always been great, but many of today's best athletes toiled in mediocrity for several years before they reached the top. Many of them made a lot of mistakes, even stupid mistakes, before they learned to be fast.

In a year in which you may train 500 hundred hours, a simple 90 minute self evaluation is a great way to determine the barriers that hold you back and figure out what changes to make to overcome those barriers. Numerous factors determine your success as an athlete. Three areas you should include in your self-evaluation are training, racing, and injuries.

Your Training Plan

This is an obvious topic but very few people get it right. Do you really know how to get fast? Do you follow a plan that allows you to be at your fastest? If the answer to either of those questions is no, then you need to make adjustments right now. Simply logging miles without a plan won't get you there, nor will consistently going hard. Either on your own, or with the help of a coach, develop a training program that works for you and stick to it.

Racing Strategy

One could write a book about racing, but a key aspect that I stress with every athlete I coach is pacing. If you don't know how to pace yourself in a race then you absolutely will not reach your potential. Note that almost every running world record has been set with even or negative (the second half is faster than the first half) splits, but most athletes don't race that way.

Ultrafit coach Lynda Wallenfels wrote an excellent article on pacing in last month's e-Tips, and you can read that article here: http://www.ultrafit.com/newsletter/april03.html .

If you aren't good at pacing yourself, and most athletes aren't, learning this skill should be a high priority.

Effectively Treating Injuries

We all know athletes who are constantly injured. I recently heard the story of a woman who had a stress fracture in her leg, but she kept running until her leg was broken. That is an extreme example but, unfortunately, similar stories aren't uncommon when athletes don't listen to their body.

The key with any injury is to determine how serious it is. An experienced athlete (who has the dubious benefit of having had several injuries) usually knows which type of injuries will go away, and which type need treatment and rest. If you don't know the difference find a good health professional.

I've had enough injuries in 20 years of racing to learn that there are very few health professionals that are good at treating sports injuries. If you have an injury and a doctor or physical therapist isn't able to diagnose the problem and tells you to take time off until you feel better, you probably need to see someone else. Similarly, if you have a soft tissue injury caused by overuse and they want to give you an x-ray, you should probably get a second opinion.

The best way to find a good doctor or physical therapist (for most injuries I prefer a physical therapist) is to get several opinions from other athletes, a running store, a bike shop, etc. It can be the difference between several months of wasted time and a quick recovery.

A Sample Evaluation

You may have one major barrier that holds you back, or it could be a combination of several. As an example of what you might find in your own evaluation, I have listed my self evaluation below.

Over the last year I went through this exercise and made a concerted effort to determine which barriers were inhibiting me. I determined four obstacles that were affecting my performance. I'm 32 years old and I have been racing since I was 12, but in just the last year I learned four significant lessons that have made a big difference in my performance.

1– Injuries - I am prone to lower leg injuries that affect my training. I recently made weekly massages a priority in an attempt to prevent those injuries.

2– Cycling – Cycling is a weakness for me. I looked back through my training logs at the periods when I was at my best, and I realized that my best racing was always setup by several consecutive weeks with five hour rides. After making this discovery I altered my schedule to include long rides and it has yielded great results.

3– Weight - I race as a pro duathlete, a competitive runner, and Category 2 cyclist. At 5'11” and 158 pounds I was not overweight but I carried a few extra pounds. Losing just five pounds made a considerable difference in my performance in all three sports.

4– Diet - I used get two to three illnesses per year that interrupted my training. Improving my diet has made me less vulnerable to getting sick, and it also helped me lose five pounds.

What can changes can you make?
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