Thursday, June 14, 2007

Meet Coach Joy

When I was in Florida during the week preceding Ironman Florida, I had several conversations with other athletes (regular ol' age-groupy type athletes like me, not like Elite, headed-for-Kona-podium types) where they made pronouncements like "Oh, my coach says I have to do a 20 minute run today." or "My coach says I'm not supposed to swim until tomorrow." and sometimes even followed up by the question: "What does your coach have you doing this week?"

My answer: "Whatever the hell I want to!" If the water is blue and perfect and flat and the sun is shining, she wants me to go for a swim. If I feel like I really need to see the first part of the bike course in order to feel good coming out of T1, she wants me to bike. If my legs feel like they need a little shaking out, she wants me to run. See, my coach is Coach Joy, and she wants me to train in a way that brings me...well...Joy!

Really, I got to feeling like I must be the only person doing an Ironman without a personal coach. And the only person not consulting my charts, heartrate monitors, glucose levels, anaerobic thresholds, and god knows what other things they've come up to measure on triathletes. Now don't get me wrong, if these things really float your boat, if it keeps you motivated and totally happy to consult the numbers, the graphs, the periodization bibles, etc. then I think that's all good and fine. But it seems like for so many people, it just looks like it stresses them out. They worry too much, and some of the joy leaches away from what is really an amazing thing - the ability to move your body through space under your own power with grace and speed.

I admit it, I've been thinking about getting a coach this year. It seems like kind of a strange thing to do after 21 years in the sport, but I've come to recognize that I've still got some speed left and could be faster if I actually maybe say planned my workouts with some sort of organization and goal in mind. But my fear is that if I hire Coach Jim with all of his numbers and tables, Coach Joy might just abandon me. If I start focusing on just becoming faster, I'm not sure if I'll get as much out of it as I do right now.

Last night I took a wonderful bike ride. I had gone out to the river with my kids and a friend and her kids and she agreed to drive them all home while I took my bike. So I got to ride on roads I'd never been on, and since the bicycling map I just bought to replace my old one turned out to be blank on the actual map side (I need a refund on that one), I just had to go by instinct and hope that the roads would connect where I thought they would and I'd be able to find a route home (I did). It was 7:30 and the sun was slanting in from the West across the fields and everything looked golden and lovely. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to get home in which time I consulted not a watch nor a monitor, but just how my body felt and how hard I wanted to push myself up and over the big hill between the river and town. If, instead of enjoying this lovely ride, I was stressing over the fact that I was supposed to be doing sprints on a flat course or hill repeats or a long slow run or something, I'm not sure if I would've enjoyed it as much as I did.

And that brings me to my theory: Anything done with joy gives you 200% of the benefits of the same action done without joy. Two people could consume the same meal, say a gorgeous Italian dinner with sausage and pasta and a garden salad. One person is savoring every bite, tasting the sun and the soil from the grove that grew the olive oil that they dip their bread in. The other person is worrying about how many carbs are in the pasta. I think the food nourishes the first person's body twice as much as it nourishes the second, even though it has exactly the same nutrients, calories, vitamins, and minerals. I believe exercise is the same. A workout done with joy gives you twice (or more) of the benefit of one done with stress. A workout you want to do can double the results of a workout you feel you have to do. So there may come a time when I'll hire Coach Jim with his times and tables. If I want to qualify for Kona in a few years, I might just give him a ring. But for now, I'm sticking with Coach Joy. Let's see.... what do I feel like doing for a workout today???? The sun is shining and the outdoor pool just opened. I think I'll swim!


richard said...

Found your blog a couple of weeks ago. I logged on this evening and couldn't believe the countryside in what i thought must be Oregon. Then i realised it was Yorkshire. I live on the right side of the pennines, Lancashire. Great blog, great attitude to life. Aswell as the tri stuff, i enjoy motorcycles (German!) and am a budding urban green warrior. Look forward to your future posts, keep up the good work.

j. said...

Ah yes... it appears we have the classic triathlete case of he said-she said. as somebody famous never said:

There are four sides to every triathlon: your side, my side, the coaches side and the truth. And they're all right.

Robin said...

Richard, you caught me on that one! I couldn't find a good photo from a rural place here (after all, I'm usually alone when I bike or run) but yes, that one is of me on holiday in Yorkshire. We stayed at a friend's family's caravan on the edge of the Dales. Lovely place to run, and beautiful countryside! Good spotting on your part. :-)

Robin said...

I have to add that this particular photo of Yorkshire looks a lot like the area I was biking last night. Very rural, very green, rolling hills, slanting light. The big difference is we have wood & wire fences instead of stone, and our sheep are not as wooly and don't have horns!

lisa said...

I have been an admirer of your blogs for almost a year (after finding the link on another friend's blog). You are spot on with so much of what you write; you are definitely on the right path with your kids---kudos to you!

This entry really struck a chord with me, as all my friends who are currently training for ironman triathlons have acquired coaches except me. (I, too, briefly toyed with the idea of hiring a coach, but realized that after 15 years of this, no one knows what i need better than me!)

Stay strong!

TriGirl 40 said...

Love it! Why do something if you can't find joy in it? And besides, given all your experience and skill - you could be a coach to many others. And teach all about bringing joy to workouts.

LongTime said...

LongTime here from trifuel. Agree with your thoughts at this point in my athletic career. At 46 years old, after competing since I was 13, I enjoy staying in shape as much as anything. I've done the schedules leading to marathons, centuries, and HIMs, and may go back to the ol' schedule again, but for now it's nice to do the workout that seems right at the time. Today it will be in the mid 90s, so I'll go to the local quarry and swim an hour. There's a sprint tri this weekend and I should taper soon, but maybe, maybe not. Appreciate your thoughts.

Warrior said...

well I am two years late after your post but that philosophy is right up my path. I would add, I think there a lot of athletes out there fuelled by fear. It's what keeps them ticking over. Some of us run towards something, some of us run away from it.