Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Racing vs. Training

I thought I had already reviewed Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
on this blog, but I can't find it if I did. I talked a little about it here.

The basic premise is that we all tend toward one of two beliefs about abilities: fixed -- that our abilities are set and accomplishment is all about showing how good we are without too much effort, and growth -- that we can consciously work to improve our abilities and accomplishment is all about working hard to improve.

I was definitely raised with the fixed mindset. I was praised in ways that suggested that my father, especially, thought that ability was inherent. "You're so smart," for example. The things that didn't come naturally, like sports, were easier to just let go than to fail over and over again to demonstrate how bad I was. School, including phys ed, was the same way. It seemed that there was more emphasis on sorting the smart kids from the not-as-smart kids and the good athletes from people like me, than on helping us learn how to learn to be better. I don't remember getting a lot of instruction on how to throw a ball, or run properly.

I know that there is some innate variation in ability, but I also think that learning starts a lot earlier than most people realize. I learned to read at a very young age -- I don't remember not knowing how -- but I couldn't have been born knowing it. My parents must have taught me somehow by reading to me. I know I watched a lot of Sesame Street, and that was in the early days when they emphasized phonics. I know one reason I wasn't super athletic, too -- at 8 or 9 years old, I got an in-school eye exam, and suddenly I had coke-bottle-thick glasses. Could it be that some of my coordination problems were because I was not able to see properly when I was very young?

As you can probably tell, I am an advocate for the growth mindset, because I think all of this emphasis on finding out who is good and who is not is bad for kids and adults alike. We should not only teach skills, but we should teach people how to study and how to think through a problem. When I'm discouraged, I tend to fall into a fixed mindset pit -- "I'm such a loser, why did I even try" -- instead of thinking about what changes I could make to be better. This is a pitfall for me at work, at home, in my eating habits, etc. I am trying to cultivate a more growth-oriented mindset.

That brings me back to the title. I did the Tri Goddess Triathlon with a friend of mine. She is ten years younger than me and has always been athletic. She has never trained much for the races she does. I get frustrated, sometimes, that she is so much better a swimmer and runner than me when she doesn't even try. I have a much nicer bike, and I did Spinning classes all winter, so that was where I caught her. She is thinking about getting a better bike.

Though it would bother me some if she got the better bike, still didn't train, and started killing me in races, I try to remind myself that it's really not about the races. Most people (my friend excluded) train so they can do well in races. That is some motivation for me, but really, it also goes the other way. I sign up for races so that I will train. If I could do well in the races without trying, I wouldn't get as fit because I'd probably just relax and show up for races and hope for the best. Even though a triathlon burns more than 1,000 calories, doing one or two races a year isn't much of a weight-management strategy, nor a fitness-management one. It wouldn't make my heart healthier, or give me greater lung capacity. It would just allow me to show off at a race now and then.

I know other formerly-competitive athletes who, for one reason or another, stopped training for a while. Many won't start up again because they are so much worse than they used to be that it upsets them. I sometimes think it's a gift that I have no "glory days" to remember. I do better in my races when I take more time for training and when I've been consistent for a long time. I can see the cause and effect. The goal for me is not to be a superstar triathlete (it's a little late for that now) but to be as fit and healthy as I can be, for as long as I can. That means training sensibly and consistently, with adequate rest and recovery time, and continually improving my nutrition. I know that over time I will slow down. I started running in my 20s and triathlon in my 30s, so I'm already seeing some slowdown in my 40s, but I want to keep putting in the miles anyway.


  1. I think as long as you're passionate about it there's no reason to stop! I think so many of us are pressured into forcing our square shapes into round holes (okay, that sounds weird, but you know what I mean), both mentally and physically. Then there are those who had parents and/or mentors who encouraged us to be ourselves or who decided to ignore the pressure and went their own way with confidence.

    That's how I feel about kettlebells...until I discovered them I forced myself into various types of exercise because I knew it was good for me. But when I am working out with kettlebells, I feel like I am living!

  2. 10:04 PM

    Such an interesting post! I am definitely working every day towards my goals and I only hope I can say that I've made it through my 30s without slowing down!

    1. 4:26 PM

      At this point, I'm just happy to still be able to do it -- I really enjoy the races and I don't care that much about my times. That said, I hope to continue to get fitter as long as I keep training.

  • Anonymous8:15 AM

    The last paragraph where you mention "the gift of no glory days to remember" reminds me of my own struggle with weight loss. I know that really isn't the point of your post, but for me the gist of having to change one's mindset in relation to one's efforts and outcomes certainly resonates. I've always been "fat" and "ugly" - no glory days to speak of - and thought that losing weight would result in some kind of glory. It hasn't. Instead, I've had to change that thought and rearrange that focus to health and an overall focus on self care.


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