In high school I became enamored with the concept of pushing through exhaustion. This approach to life manifested itself through the pursuit of performance goals in endurance sports. As a cross-country skier and distance runner, I believed that the only thing that mattered was making yourself tired. Once tired, I accepted that the only way to improve was to push through that fatigue. If I could not push through the fatigue, then it stood to reason that I was weak. Clearly I was destined to become an ultrarunner! Regarding General Patton: My dad is a ‘war buff’ and amateur scholar of all things history. One of my dad’s subjects of study for many years was General George Patton and I remember watching documentary-after-documentary about him. I too came to highly respect what he did for our country during WWI and WWII. The ‘General’ was known for his ‘quotable’ speeches and his ability to motivate the troops under his command. As a junior in high school I stumbled upon one of Patton’s greatest quotes: “An active mind cannot exist in an inactive body. Always make the mind control the body. To gain strength, always go beyond exhaustion.”
These words spoke to me more than any other quote I had ever read or heard. I wrote it on everything; from notebooks to posters, and even on my skis and running shoes. It was my express goal to pursue a life where I always pushed beyond exhaustion. (Those of you that knew me back then can probably attest that endurance sport was the only realm I lived this out in.) My parents encouraged me in everything I did (still do), but they did try to temper this masochistic approach to training. Also, my coach at Glens Falls High School, Bill Parks, tried everything he could to get me to trust in my training and the plan that he had in place. I was so un-coachable that I still marvel that he allowed me to keep coming around. No one really got through to me until I made it to college, got my butt kicked, and was forced to try a new approach. Still, the framework of my thinking centered around ‘pushing through fatigue at all costs.’
I used to ‘rage and kick’ (As Mark Twight says) against the adage: “Its better to be 10% undertrained than 1% over-trained.” Seeing that in writing still makes me cringe with regards to my own training and performance. Now, as a coach, clearly I understand this principle. In order to keep moving my athletes and clients forward they need to stay healthy and motivated. There is a time and place for ‘nudging up against the line’ but for the most part this principle is perfectly clear while working with others. On the other side of the coin, coaching myself is a different beast all-together. I know the principle and completely understand the consequences of crossing the line too frequently, but somehow I still manage to push into the ‘oblivion of over-training and under-recovering’ for at least one extended period of time per calendar year. When will I get it? Hopefully sooner rather than later. Let me just state here that I still hate the idea of being 10% undertrained but I will certainly be tinkering with my own approach for 2012 and beyond.
So the question I leave the blogosphere with is this: Should we be training as little as possible to reach the goals we have set for ourselves, or should we be training as much as we can get away with? Is there a middle ground? In this workaholic world we are creating, is there a place for 1 day of rest per week? The type ‘A’ drivenness seems to keep getting the best of me. What about you? Should we approach ultras as General Patton suggests? Where is the line? And another thing… why do we find it necessary to race so much? Is 450 – 550 miles (or much more for some) of racing per year too much? Where do you all stand on this? I would love to see your comments. Thanks for reading. Train well. Eat well. Sleep well. DC