Friday, July 20, 2007

Check Your Head...Part Deux

So...after working with Maxine for well over 3 months, we made some progress. We identified the main source of her challenge as a runner...which was effectively...herself. Her own self-talk was pretty negative and self-defeating. Regardless of how well trained Maxine might have been, without confidence in her own abilities, how well could she ultimately perform?

Maxine's triathlon was on the horizon and I knew that she had done some high quality training over the past several months. 'Physically', Maxine was ready for her triathlon. But, despite the progress we'd made during her workouts and our identification of the root cause of her problem, I wasn't sure she'd be able to apply a positive mindset on race day and overcome some of the inevitable challenges and obstacles that can come up.

The day of Maxine's triathlon came and went. I didn't hear anything from Maxine and after a few days of silence, I sent her a quick email inquiring about her event. The response while disappointing was not terribly surprising given what I had experienced with Maxine up until this point. In her own words,

'Awful. I think that's the slowest I've ever done in a race. After the
swim I didn't want to continue but I did. I finished it but I think it
took me 3 1/2 hours. I feel really discouraged and it makes me not want
to do anymore triathlons because I did so horribly.'

To Maxine's credit, she finished. But, I was HIGHLY confident she had underperformed and a rough start on the swim was her undoing. This set the tone for the rest of the triathlon which was undoubtedly a painful exercise for her.

I asked Maxine to call me and I started asking questions about exactly what was going on in her head during the race. It was really sad...Maxine felt like crying after she finished the swim. She was embarassed and humiliated. She felt like she was disappointing her parents who had flown out to see her compete. In short, this was nothing short of a disaster.

But, I knew there was something we could take away from this. I asked her if she was even tired when she finished. Maxine told me she wasn't! What this underscored was the fact that Maxine's poor performance was almost SOLELY attributable to her inability to overcome the initial hardships encountered in the water and find a way to stay positive and focused and make the best of the remainder of the race.

The challenge I was left with was 'how' to get Maxine to take the positive mindset she had started to bring to our workouts together to race day. Additionally, I found myself wondering what this was really all about! Why did Maxine beat herself? Why did she self-sabotage? I got some insights a few days later.

We met at the track for a time trial. It was apparent to me she was still suffering from a bit of a 'hangover' from the weekend's triathlon debacle. It showed in her performance on the track. Once again, she underperformed posting a time slower than what she ran previously. Asking her how she felt afterwards revealed she was pretty much consumed by negativity and a lack of self confidence.

Near tears, she started telling me about her sister who was an exceptional student and a doctor. Growing up, Maxine always struggled in school and told me she even used to hand in tests sometimes without even trying to take them! It was clear that from an early age, Maxine had gotten into the terrible habit of just giving up and packing it in at the first sign of resistance/adversity.

It was at this juncture that I asked Maxine if she had ever considered talking to a therapist about some of these things. It was clear to me (while I'm certainly NOT a therapist) that Maxine's challenges performing came from a very complicated place and while I could provide the 'physical training' necessary for her to perform, she would NEVER truly perform well consistently until she 'retrained' her mental approach towards life's challenges.

We talked a bit more and my suspicions were largely confirmed. Maxine's lack of self-confidence had hampered her in a myriad of areas of her life. Personally and professionally, this issue presented some very real challenges and often created situations in which it was almost inevitable that Maxine would fail.

I leveled with Maxine and told her that if she didn't believe she could perform at a high level, there was no chance that she would. We needed to focus on finding a way to reframe the whole experience of runnning/competing such that Maxine could fight through adversity and challenges.

There are no easy answers for a client like Maxine. But, in the weeks that followed, Maxine's body language began to show more confidence and while I frequently do have to remind her to remain positive and ignore the self-defeating voices that crop up in her head time and again, she's making significant strides both literally and metaphorically.

Maxine has done a wonderful job of reminding me just how important having the right mindset can be to achieving your goals...whether they're running related or in some other area of your life. My hope is that working with Maxine in building some successes, she can not only start performing the way I know she's capable of performing, but perhaps these lessons will wash over into other areas of her life.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Check Your Head..

In days of yore, I considered myself a tennis player. I'd win some matches on occasion, but by the time I was about 15 I realized it maybe wasn't the sport for me. My problem was that I just didn't have the temperment or mental game for tennis. I'd get agitated, I'd get angry, and soon enough I'd have beaten myself handily.

Fortunately, I stumbled onto an article by sports psychologist Jim Loehr in 'Tennis' magazine. The thrust of this article was that there are '2' different kinds of players-those who need to get 'psyched up' for a match and those who effectively need to 'chill out' in order to perform. I was definitely the latter when it came to tennis.

The reality is that being in the right mental space is critical to performing well...regardless of the sport or activity you're engaging in. If you don't BELIEVE you can do something, it doesn't matter how hard you work, how hard you train, chances are you WON'T do it.

I was reminded of this important lesson not too long ago when I started working with Maxine. Maxine and myself exchanged emails and finally agreed to meet for our first session. I was immediately struck by Maxine. She was tall, thin, athletic, and attractive. Maxine spoke at length about her challenges 'running fast'. I found myself looking at Maxine and wondering exactly why someone like this would have challenges running fast. She was BUILT to run!

I expected her to take off like a gazelle when she ran a couple casual warm up laps. But, the speed at which she was moving was more like a clydesdale! Needless to say, I was a bit baffled and in a few weeks found myself wondering if Maxine's challenges had less to do with training and more to do with something inside her head.

My suspicions were effectively confirmed after about a month or so of training. Maxine would have moments of brilliance where I'd see her run fast, but they were fleeting and far between. I scheduled a 2 mile time trial to see what progress we'd made since we first started working together. The first two laps were beautiful to watch. Maxine glided gracefully and quickly across the track. However, Maxine's graceful gliding was all too short lived.

After the second lap, Maxine's body language changed, she moved differently, and she inexplicably slowed down! The next thing I knew she finished the two mile time trial with a time that was even SLOWER than what she posted during our first session. This simply didn't make ANY sense to me. I knew she was committed to the training. The schedule I had her on included workouts that ABSOLUTELY increase endurance, VO2Max, lactate threshold, and leg turnover. How was it possible that after 4+ weeks of solid, consistent, QUALITY training that Michelle had somehow regressed?!?!

Frustrated, I called Maxine out at the conclusion of this time trial. I asked her what happened after the first two laps. She told me after the first two laps she got scared and basically started telling herself she couldn't maintain this pace. The proverbial lightbulb went off for me at this juncture. Maxine's challenge wasn't the training. It wasn't that she wasn't meant to run fast. Maxine's challenge was that she didn't BELIEVE that she could.

My approach to coaching Maxine changed a bit in that I really tried to focus on positive reinforcement and encouraged Maxine to do some positive visualization and positive self talk. I encouraged her to become cognizant of those negative voices and confront them. You CAN run fast. You ARE CAPABLE of doing this. FIGHT through this!

I also began asking Maxine questions that were a bit more personal in nature in an attempt to get a better sense of exactly 'why' these nasty voices were creeping in. What started to become clear to me is that Maxine had encountered a number of experiences in her life that had led her to believe (erroneously) that she wasn't capable of performing at a high level...whether this was at the track with me, at the office, or in other areas of her life. Maxine had a tendency to pack it in at the first sign of challenge or difficulty. This was my to help Maxine work through this.

While I saw progress at the track during our workouts, I was curious how this might carry over into an actual race day performance. I would find out soon enough.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Go Team SRO! (Students Run Oakland)

As mentioned in a previous post, I saw an incredibly inspiring documentary last year called, Runner's High that shed light on a non-profit organization in Oakland called Students Run Oakland. SRO trains high school students in Oakland for the Los Angeles Marathon.

The majority of these students are struggling in school, having problems at home, and encountering challenges in a multitude of areas. During the process of training for the Los Angeles Marathon, many of these kids turn their lives around. Many improve their grades, stop acting out in school as much, and see possibilities that they couldn't see before.

I was inspired to find a way to help Students Run Oakland and after talking with Executive Director, Spencer Hooper, I'm excited to announce the launch of Team SRO!

Team SRO is a half marathon (and 12K) training/fundraising program that benefits Students Run Oakland.

Participants pay nothing for the half marathon/12K training program. BUT, participants are asked to commit to raising $100 per mile....$1300 or $700, respectively. This money goes directly to Students Run Oakland!

If you're looking for an opportunity to get into great shape, have a great time, achieve the remarkable, and most importantly give back to the organization that has given so much to so many young people in Oakland, please join Team SRO on Saturday, Aug.11 @8AM at Lake Merritt!

Program Overview/FAQs

Sample Week of Training

Fundraising Quick Hits




P.O. BOX 590355
SAN FRANCISCO, CA. 94159-0355

We hope to see you on Saturday, August 11 @8AM at Lake Merritt!

Additional questions/concerns? Email For More Info!

The Folly of Youth.....Part Deux

OK, Admittedly the cliffhanger conclusion to this story is LONG OVERDUE! My apologies, but I've had more pressing matters to attend to these past 11 months. (Has it REALLY been that long?)

At any rate, I did my level best to discourage Max from running the coastal trail and several weeks later I followed up with his father to inquire and see what Max ultimately decided to do. My hope was that somehow I managed to reach him.

Apparently, Max decided to 'walk' the coastal trail. This was a non-trivial task to say the least, but it was at least marginally more sane than what Max originally had in mind. That being said, it wasn't as if Max was a highly skilled outdoorsman and had years of 'hiking' experience under his belt.

Curiously, Max opted to NOT wear hiking boots as he thought he 'might' like to run. Not too surprisingly, Max elected to not run at all. I'm reading the first few sentences of this email and can't help but think this is not an auspicious start!

Max embarked on this trek and the first 20 miles went smoothly enough until his feet started to hurt. I guess a nice pair of hiking boots would have come in handy. Standard running shoes are not necessarily designed for the kind of journey he was attempting to undertake. To Max's credit, he soldiered on for a grand total of 25 miles.

Max's gear included a 5-8 lb. camelback pack, a 1.5 lb sleeping bag, some rehydration packets for his water, a blister pack, a flashlight, a cellphone, and some maps. I'm thinking some food, a tent, and perhaps a flint might have helped!

The next day was an exercise in pain management as Max's feet hurt with virtually every step.....shocking! Max seemed to think that his 21 day wilderness trek (in hiking boots) that included hiking 10 miles a day would prepare him for this veritable death march along the Coastal Trail. Needless to say, this is when things get interesting.

Finally recognizing his limitations, Max runs into a ranger who kindly invites him to rest at a wilderness hostel 'somewhere' north of Santa Cruz. If this isn't the beginning of a bad horror film ('Hostel' anyone?), I don't know what is!

However, Max stayed at the hostel for two days in a vain attempt to allow his feet some time to heal. After two days of rest, Max strapped on the running shoes again and hit the trail. Another 20 miles later, Max found himself in significant pain yet again.

Fortunately, a local needed some help 're-roofing' his home. Max obliged and helped in the re-roofing effort in exchange for a 15 mile ride to Santa Cruz. After some strong persuading on the part of his family, Max elected to take a bus from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara (why he would not opt for a bus directly back to the Bay Area is beyond me?!?!) and then caught a bus back home from there.

Needless to say, Max's feet were traumatized likely due to the fact that running shoes are not designed for miles of hiking. One of his knees was very sore/uncomfortable which necessitated a visited to a sports physician. Rounding things out, he had a litany of blisters for his efforts.

Fortunately, it sounds like there was no permanent damage done. Hopefully, Max has learned something from this experience. I'm the last person to discourage someone from chasing their goals or dreams, but ideally you chase them in a thoughtful, well planned, and well prepared fashion. Max's humbling (and hobbled) experience perhaps gave him some MUCH needed perspective!