One of the biggest wastes of time and stress are uncontrollables. As a coach, I can't tell you how many times I've had athletes ask me questions of concern regarding things that weren't within their control. Such things that come to mind are wind direction, pool closings, weather, flat tires, torn shoe laces, ripped shoes, or any other detrimental misfortune. The following post will touch on methods to look past these pesky uncontrollables. If you can take away any of these pieces of information, you may find that your training and races become much more enjoyable and you stop putting so much pressure or stress upon yourself.
In order to figure out how to not worry about things you can't control, its critical that we understand what we can control. If you ask any individual they may give you a long list of things they control, but for all practical purposes... I like to break it down into time management and effort level. Think about it, when you wake up and think about your day, literally the only things you can control are what you're going to do and how much effort you are going to put into it. You can't control if a bird flies into your windshield on the way to an interview and you spill your coffee all over yourself. Rather, all you can do is figure out how you can allocate enough time to change your attire and how much effort is required to meet your goals within that interview.
So, if all we can control is our time-management and effort, why in the world do we as athletes let ourselves become so stressed over weather, waves, wind, flat tires, etc. To me this takes all the joy out of the sport and takes the focus away from your hard work and commitment.
So, how do I focus on only my controllables?
Lets break this down first with time-management and how to prioritize your responsibilities throughout the day/week. I have done this before, but I find it works best to prove a point with time-management:
Hours in a week: 168
Hours of sleep: 8 hours x 7 days = 56 hours
Hours of work: 40 hours
Hours of cooking: 2 hours x 7 days = 14 hours
Hours of commuting: 2 hours x 7 days = 14 hours
Hours with family: 4 hours x 7 days = 28 hours
Hours remaining: 16 hours
- I like to think I've been generous with the cooking and commuting, but the idea behind this is to make a budget of your time just like you would of your finances. If the old saying of "time is money" is correct, then why haven't you budgeted out your time yet?
- So this is the first step in focusing on what you can control. Simply putting together a time budget will really show you where you are wasting time and where you could possibly be enhancing your abilities as an athlete.
Secondly, I'd like to talk about effort. This to me is the bread and butter of being an athlete and not allowing uncontrollables to stress you out. There are three methods here that every athlete should know and stick to regardless of the condition (for the sake of this argument)
- First, there is a scale called RPE. RPE stands for Rate of Perceived exertion. Generally on a 0-10 scale, it measures the intensity at which you are exercising with 0 being nothing and 10 being all out. The moral of a story here is that regardless if you are running on a calm day or running into a hurricane type headwind, a 7 is still a 7 effort level.
- The second method I'd like to talk about is heart rate. It has the same idea as RPE but the heart rate is more unique to you. Every individual has a threshold heart rate (the heart rate at which their body can't fight off the lactate acid any more). So, just like RPE if the athlete is holding 150bpm on a nice calm day or 150bpm into a headwind, they are still putting out the same effort.
- Lastly is the power meter and the bike. Again, same idea as RPE but very specific to the individual like heart rate. Each individual has a threshold power number and should focus on only there effort according to this number during training and racing. Again, 200 watts on a calm day is the same effort as 200 watts in a nasty headwind.
That's great and all, but where do most people get stressed?
Every athlete I've ever met has at some point talked about speed, pace, finish time, etc. I'm here to say that yes those are great goals to have and goals to shoot for, but honestly they are all part of uncontrollables. All of those ideas I've listed are controlled by conditions of the course, weather, other athletes, etc and therefore should not be the goal or focus. This sounds crazy doesn't it? A coach telling you not to worry about speed or finish times.
Here is my reason for this:
- What if you have trained all year and built your power threshold up to 300 watts with the goal of breaking 1 hour in a cycling race. You started the season at 250 watts but all you've wanted is to break that time goal. You show up on race day and you find out that you have a nasty headwind halfway out. Also, a storm front is coming in around the halfway point and the winds will shift. You come across the finish line and see the clock read 1:01:20. Just like most athletes, you would be let down thinking you didn't achieve your goals. However, throughout the year you had made the time necessary to train and put in the effort to build your performance indicators. However, because of an uncontrollable on race day, your race didn't go as planned. See how this works!
Any last words of advice?
Again, all you can control is your time-management and effort. It's honestly that simply. Take out all the rest of your worries on uncontrollables and you'll be amazed at how much stress you'll get rid of! Yes, its good to plan for uncontrollables because they will happen... but don't let them be the determining factor of your enjoyment within your sport.