The importance of adapting when it counts
Imagine you are at the start line of a race. Look to your left and right. Observe the other athletes. Now tell yourself this: Everyone on the start line has gone through challenges to get there. It could be dealing with injuries, lack of motivation, missed training sessions due to work, family, or illness. But despite these challenges, here you all are standing on the start line. So, what is the common thread that got all of you there?
The ability to adapt.
What does this look like? Lean in for story time. Sean was meant to run his first Comrades marathon. His training was going incredibly well and in a qualifying marathon he was on track to run under 3 hours for the first time. Halfway through the race he started having pain in his pelvic region and with 6 miles left to go in the race he was limping and in the medical tent. A pelvic stress fracture was the diagnosis, and he was on crutches for 3 months and didn’t take a step of running in 4 months’ time. He missed Comrades, but he did have his sights set on another ultramarathon: the 100 km Ultra Trail Cape Town. At the time, the cutoff time was a speedy 15 hours and he only had 4 months to prepare. 4 months out from the race he did his first run – it was 5 minutes. 4 months later he finished the race in 14.5 hours. While he didn’t meet his original goal of racing Comrades, he adapted by choosing another race and progressing his training safely and effectively to meet a new goal. Adapting is a necessary skill for an athlete and can be the difference between a good and great performance.
Some tips on how to adapt:
- Practice performance talk when doubts or anxieties creep in.
Some coaches call this positive self-talk, but I prefer to call it performance talk as I believe it’s natural to have both negative and positive thoughts. For example, let’s say you dealt with a niggling achilles in the weeks leading up to your marathon race. You may think to yourself, “I’m not sure how I will perform on race day since I missed some training sessions.” An example of performance talk here is, “My training was consistent and strong for 16 out of the 20 weeks of preparation. When my achilles started hurting, I took the necessary steps to take care of my body with rest and rehab. I have prepared to the best of my ability, and I am ready to perform. It’s ok to be nervous. I can do this.”
- Practice challenging, unexpected situations in training and life.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This may include things like: training at a time of day or in weather conditions that you don’t like, running a route you have a mental block against, or trying a new sport and feeling like a total novice.
- Build a team of support around you.
It’s difficult to adapt without support around you. Sometimes you need to verbalize your challenges to someone you trust and who can give you good advice. This could include coaches, training partners, family, or health professionals such as a physical therapist. These are key team members that can help you adapt and reach your goals.