What do you do when your sport starts to feel like a second job? Competing begins to lose its fun and you start showing up to races wishing they were already over. A couple weeks ago, I stepped to the starting line of Ironman New Orleans and for the first time I experienced these feelings. Tired from my travels, hectic work life and lack of taking time for me, I was burned out of my passion. Mental fatigue had set in. Why didn’t it seem fun? What was I missing?
I’ve been coaching endurance sports full time now for nearly two years. As my athlete base has grown, it’s been increasingly difficult to balance my own training. Additionally, I’ve felt pressure to perform because my athletes and potential atheltes are watching. What will they think if I crash and burn? Will they still have the confidence in my expertise? When you’re a coach the last person you begin to care about is yourself. The focus shifts from your success to the success of your athletes. How can I help them get better? Am I providing them with the tools they need to exceed? What else can I do?
It seems the more I’ve become invested in my athletes the less I begin to care about the precision and fun I used to have in my own training dwindles. Sure, I plan and still make time to get my workouts in, but the execution has lacked enjoyment. Constantly thinking about the next program I have to write or the session I have to prep pushed me to become drained for when it was my turn to train. I lost that pop, the excitement of being out there and started to look at my training as a chore all along the way putting high expectations on myself thinking everyone cares how I perform. What will they say about my program? What if I screw up?
I believe I experienced these feelings because A, I care about what people think and B, my training method is very different than what others follow so I feel like have to constantly prove it and C, my career is focused on taking care of others. It’s almost like I’ve put theses unrealistic expectations on myself to be perfect and forgot I was still a human. What’s very interesting is that research suggests that the best health professionals – those detail-oriented, perfectionistic, deeply compassionate souls among us – are at the highest risk of burnout. It seems that the realities of their work don’t always match up to their high standards, and the resulting stress and frustration, and constant work leads to physical and mental exhaustion. Gee, really? Now did it really let it go this far? Heck no, but if I didn’t shake myself out of that funk when I got back from New Orleans I was well on my way. It took a weekend at home with no obligations and no “scheduled” training to snap me out of it.
Over the last week I’ve asked myself what made it fun before? What was so exciting about stepping to the start line? Well, it wasn’t about showing others I could perform or proving my endurance method worked, it had to do with showing myself I could do it; an opportunity to be in my own head. I thought about the right things when I was out there. The amazing people in my life and how blessed I am to be able to compete. In my line of work, I have the opportuntiy to inspire someone every day to do something they think they can’t do. The ability to help them get healthier or improve for their sport. I always talk with athletes about how to balance training with their life and never wanting what we do to interfere with the important things. I ask people all the time about their motivation to train, why is it important to you? During the last few months, I really should have asked myself that same very question.
Training and racing is important to me because it’s a metaphor for life. Anything can go wrong and everything can go right. What I needed to remind myself is that just like life, races and training don’t always go how you plan. You can’t control everything and expect it to be perfect. Fun can fade and balance can be thrown off. What you can do though is be in it for you. Allow yourself to have fun. Always keep it fun. Be selfish with your life and remember that you only answer to two people, God and you. What do they really care about?