How Sausage Is Made
As a coach and a sometimes public speaker, I often run across those whose dreams and goals don’t line up with their actions. My first goal is to motivate them to line the two up (aka work harder), but more often than not, I end up having to manage their expectations. Why? Once they see how truly difficult it can be to reach lofty goals, the goal becomes seemingly too hard and therefore less important.
When you look at the pyramid of success, you notice that only one can be the best, a few have a shot at it, a few more can be in the hunt, and so on and so forth until everyone can be a participant.
As the beginner gets better, attrition starts to happen. Some people get injured, some burn out, some are lazy, some aren’t willing to make the sacrifice, etc. It’s the nature of the beast. Those who push through all of those obstacles find themselves on the pointy end of the pyramid. I often chuckle to myself when I hear about youth sports programs that are nothing but “factories” and just “burn kids out”. If you don’t push people to that level you’ll never see the potential. Those “factories” produce greatness. Programs high in “burn out” are usually high in elite level athletes. Programs that rarely burn anyone out rarely send anyone to the top. It’s just how it works.
People want to achieve great things, as long as it doesn’t require leaving their comfort zone. “I want to go to Kona” but “I don’t really like to swim (and I know deep down I will skip swim workouts and half ass my time in the pool)”. “I want to become a really good runner off the bike (as long as I don’t have to put in too many miles)”.
Enter the excuses and shortcuts. “Swimming is all technique work”, “If I do more intervals I can cut out all those “junk” miles”, “I can shave 5 minutes if I buy all this cool shit” (and skip some rides along the way), “I’m more about quality over quantity”. You get the idea.
The other thing I see a lot of is avoiding what you’re bad at to do things you’re good at. Good cyclists always find time to ride. Good runners never miss their run workout, and you can usually find the good swimmer at the pool. There’s an old saying that amateurs focus on their strengths, and professionals focus on their weaknesses.
I speak to groups somewhat regularly and this past year I spoke at a couple of swimming awards banquets. One of the messages was that if you are dreaming to be an Olympian, but training just to get by, something isn’t lined up correctly. The truth is that the Olympics, or any lofty goal for that matter, takes a shit load of work. More work than most people can even wrap their head around. Depending on the program, club swim teams will swim anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 yards per week at the high school level, and that’s a lot of swimming. So when you tell them that Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and others will often put in over 100,000 yards in a week, their eyes glaze over. Hey kid, take what you thought was an extreme amount of work, then DOUBLE it. That’s what it takes. That soy milk you put on your cereal isn’t exactly going to put you over the top when you put everything into perspective.
It’s no different in other sports. Want to be a great marathon runner? Then get ready to burn through shoes about every two weeks. Even take a sport that doesn’t require great fitness to be pretty good at, like golf. Get a good swing and some focus and you can be pretty good. Oh, you want to be like Tiger was in his prime? Well then take a look and Tiger’s training day:
6:30 am 1 hr cardio
7:30 1hr of weights
9:00am 2hrs at the range
11:00am 30 minutes putting
12:00pm 9 holes of golf
2:00pm 3-4 hours on the course. Range and/or 9 holes of golf
6:30pm 30 minutes of weights
The idea of something great inspires us all, but once people see what it takes to get there, there’s often a shift in mindset. As a friend of mine said, it’s like loving sausage and then seeing how sausage is made – once you see it, you re-evaluate if that’s what you want. But it’s not just the mind, there are lots of things that can stop you short of your goals.
There’s injury and physical burnout. It’s very common . At the workload needed it’s bound to happen. Being reckless in your approach or too aggressive too soon can put you on the sidelines. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your fitness. Being durable and consistent is far more important in the long term and sometimes the most important quality of them all, as boring as that may be.
Then there are lifestyle issues. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Sometimes what you need more than anything else is time. If you are too limited on time (or choose to limit your time because of lifestyle) then you need to come to grips that it might not be a realistic goal right now. If you find yourself reading all the articles that offer ‘short cuts to success’ then you are probably not understanding the goal you have set for yourself. There has never been an Olympic Champion, Ironman Champion, etc that crossed the finish line and told everyone that it wasn’t lots of long hard work, but rather a 5 min ab session they saw on tv and some short cut workouts that got them where they are. Never will it happen either.
Most of us have big goals that keep us getting up and out there. So if you have a big goal, then know how that sausage is made. Then sit your ass down, tuck in a napkin, and start eating.