September. Another summer that flew by without any warning. For some, this means the end of the tri season, while others are still looking down the barrel of some big races, Ironman WI, Ironman Louisville, Ironman FL, Kona, and countless others. Personally, I've got more than a few races left on the calendar, and as the days get shorter, I've got to make sure my mental game is in top shape to ensure I get in the work I need and do it well. Which leads me to today's topic. The importance of spending some time in an empty room.
I have found that the importance of this mental training is important no matter where you are in your year. Some of you may run with a group, or ride with a group, are part of a masters swim program, or enjoy doing some type of informal group training. Even though you might be in a group setting, you are still dialed in to what you need to accomplish in those workouts. Your goals, pace, effort, are specific to you, and not everyone else in the group. Whether you train with others or not, its very easy to lose sight of the results you are having, especially when you are so close to it. I've spoken with several athletes this summer who have achieved some amazing results, but they haven't taken the all important step back to really appreciate them. They've become so mired down in their training and allowing others results to affect them, that they can't see the forest through the trees. And the damage that is done with not being objective when looking at one's results is not just mental, its physical. A lack of objectivity can cause one to spin up needlessly, which translates into over training, which leads to diminished returns and possibly illness and injury.
Which leads me to the empty room. Yes, when we race, we race alone. Even if 2000 of our best friends are racing alongside us, we are still responsible for getting ourselves across the finish line. But we are also living in an age with very little privacy and all too many distractions - social media, streaming live TV, etc. So its hard to find the empty room. But I'm positive everyone knows where one is, and here are a few tips as to why its important to spend some time in one.
First, when I say empty room, I'm speaking of one devoid of distractions - no TV, no phone, you get the idea. Have a pen and paper, or notebook with you. Yes, old school, just like when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Make sure you aren't going to be disturbed for at least 30 minutes. Second, Grab yourself a comfortable chair, or a place on the floor. Have a seat, and close your eyes. Allow yourself 5 minutes to clear your mind and relax. Third, when you open your eyes, recognize that there is no one in the room, no one to judge you, no one to comment, just you. Take the next 5-10 minutes to write down the accomplishments you've had over the last week, month, season. Be objective. If you added 20 watts to your FTP, write that down. It doesn't matter if you wanted a better number, you still GAINED 20 WATTS. That's a big deal. If you dropped a few seconds off your 5k time, write that down. Don't attach judgement to it because of how you think it compares to training partners, friends, teammates. Its irrelevant. Its about what it is, not what you perceive it to be. Once you've done writing things down, put the pen down, and close your eyes again. Breathe. Relax. Any emotional baggage that you've attached to results or wanted to attach, let it go. I know, easier said than done. But you must do this. Its the most important part.
Fourth, open your eyes again and look at your sheet. Take a moment to be proud. Because you should be. Understand that so few people are doing what you do, and even fewer are taking the time to appreciate it and build on it. If you are still struggling with being objective, imagine you are reviewing someone else's sheet, or, better yet, but the sheet away for a week, then, go back to your empty room and look at it again. I promise that you will be surprised at how you react with some clarity. Doing this after the season is great because it provides a road map as to how to build for next season. Doing it in season allows you to have some small victories that keep you motivated and continue grinding while preparing for your next race. And in a sport that is a solo venture, we can all use some small victories. They are all around us, we just need to take time to appreciate them. I have to do this constantly to avoid spiraling and beating myself up. You're achieving more than you know. Take the time to recognize it, and celebrate it.
Empty rooms. They aren't scary. They are your friend.