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Why It’s OK You’re Not a Pro… And How to Think About Your Athletic Career Instead

by | Jun 10, 2022 | Training

Tis the season where we’re watching others competing every weekend, stalking pro riders on Strava and comparing weekly mileage totals to people with totally different lives/training plans/goals than us. Maybe you’re stressing because you have a race in the heat or at altitude coming up, and you’re seeing other people heading to camps and traveling to be prepared for it, and you’re feeling left behind. But here’s the thing: Just because you don’t have 20+ hours a week to train, or you’re not traveling to race every weekend, doesn’t mean you can’t be incredibly successful as an athlete. In fact, you can use those time and travel constraints to your advantage instead.

So you don’t have a contract with a professional racing team, you only have a few hours each week to train, and you have a demanding job and two teenagers at home. Bad news: You’re not going to be able to carve out time for 27-hour training weeks anytime soon. Good news: You absolutely don’t have to do that to make your training three times as effective as it is now. In fact, having those time parameters and restrictions means that you can stay in a routine better than many pros can, and if you flip the switch on the right habits and kick some of your bad habits to the curb, you have the ability to make major changes in your life. Here, we’re sharing an excerpt from our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, all about the Daily Training Environment and controlling the parts of it that you can control.

Those with a 9-to-5 job and family responsibilities often bemoan them, and fair enough—but having that set routine and other obligations means we can take things like long-term training camps off the table and really focus on honing your Daily Training Environment.

The Daily Training Environment is admittedly the least sexy part of endurance sport. It’s nowhere near as cool-sounding as doing base miles in warm Spain or sunny California in the winter months. The physical manifestation of your Daily Training Environment is your house, your home base. But it also encompasses your daily routines, rituals and habits. What time you wake up in the morning and what time you go to sleep. How much coffee you drink and when you’re drinking it. What you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When you fit in your training, your stretching and your extra steps. What going to the office looks like, and what you do there.
The more healthy habits you can incorporate into that Daily Training Environment, the more successful you’ll be. Often, pros (and amateurs with money to burn) mistakenly think that they can go away for a four-week training block and come back and ride that fitness for an entire season. But often, that leads to overtraining, burnout, illness, and frankly, a drop in fitness when they come back to reality.

Rather than fleeing from home to create a training oasis, we want to bring that athlete lifestyle into your everyday: When you wake up and roll out of bed, pausing for a few stretches before you turn on the kettle to make coffee, doing squats while you wait for the water to boil… That’s an optimal Daily Training Environment. Having your running clothes already packed neatly in a gym bag by the door with a healthy rice-and-veggie bowl stashed in the fridge so you can run and then eat a recovery meal midday at the office… That’s an optimal Daily Training Environment. Having four hours every Saturday set aside—and cleared with your family—for your long training ride… That’s an optimal Daily Training Environment.

Before you go any further, grab a notebook and jot a few thoughts down, asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does your Daily Environment look like right now? Note that we took the word ‘training’ out, because we want you to think about what your day-to-day looks like, from family to work to training to relaxing. This will give you a better idea of where you do—and definitely don’t—have room to improve at this point in your life.
  • Where are your major problem / pain points keeping you from being the best athlete you can be right now? If you’re reading this book, the odds are good that you’re invested in being the best athlete that you can be, but you know you’re lacking in certain areas. This may also help you figure out which section to start with, though we hope you’ll read them all!
  • What would your optimal week look like? Be realistic here. If you have a two-year-old and a dog and a demanding job, a 30-hour training week isn’t going to happen unless you’re getting paid the big bucks to be in top shape. But an eight-hour training week and feeling more awake and alert at the dinner table isn’t that far afield.

The cool thing about this series of questions is that it’s a great way to quickly get a big picture look at what you can realistically commit to, and what you want to commit to. It’s a step that most athletes we talk to forget to take, or simply skip because in their excitement to start working with a coach or training using a plan, they decide that they have unlimited time to train like a professional does, forgetting the rest of their busy (awesome) lives.

But when an athlete can take a few minutes to reflect on what is realistic and logical for them in terms of both general lifestyle and training, they end up blowing us away with their level of follow-through. It turns out that it’s much easier to stick to a training plan that takes the rest of your life (and life stress) into account.

If you’re reading this, odds are good that you have at least one major commitment other than sport in your life. Otherwise, you’d likely be living in a training center and eating/sleeping/breathing your sport and wouldn’t need to have these habits listed out. This is how successful athletes are made though: Your obstacles to a full-time training calendar are what make you a stronger, more resilient athlete… And one who’s life isn’t over because races don’t go perfectly or a training session gets missed. You’re more than the sum of your running pace or your cycling wattage.

In fact, there’s one masters athlete Peter worked with who exemplifies this: During a brief period where he was between jobs and had more time to train, he went completely off the rails. His training went through huge peaks and valleys because one week, he’d be hyper-motivated to train as much as humanly possible and he’d add hours to his training, sneak in runs after riding, and basically double up on his training plan. The next week, he’d be exhausted and injured, so he’d spend most of the time laid up on the couch. Without work, he was going stir crazy!

He had the worst race season of his career, despite the fact that he suddenly had 50 extra hours each week to train, recover or rest.

When he went back to work—to a job that was even higher stress than the last one—he was suddenly able to get back to training according to his training plan… Not because he had more hours, but because he had less.

The next race season, despite the heavy workload, he was stronger and raced better than he had in years. He’d found the right balance of work/training/life, a balance that felt impossible for him to figure out when work was taken out of the equation.

The idea of living like a professional athlete sounds awesome, but for most people, it’s actually incredibly difficult to do. It requires a willingness to lounge, hang out, say no to social obligations, get in bed early, and not go overboard on the actual training.

At times, it sounds difficult, but be thankful that you have other things going on in your life that keep you from going too far in your training.

In fact, as we wrote our book, we were in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and what we saw with the clients we work with is that the ones who have other things going on in life are the ones who are staying the fittest and the most motivated to train. Those who were focused solely on race results and trying to be the most ‘pro’ athletes possible were the ones who struggled the most when all the races for the summer were cancelled. They’re the ones who got demotivated and dropped out of training altogether, while the athletes who had plenty of other things going on in their lives seemed to thrive.

So… what can you change in your daily training environment to thrive?

Before you go, check out our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, right here:

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