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Lower Your Expectations + After a Breakthrough, Back Off!

February 22, 2018


Interesting Thought: Lower Your Expectations 

Consider Amelia Boone. The world-champion Spartan racer is a Type A pusher. When she’s not winning Spartan events or racing ultramarathons, she’s a corporate lawyer for Apple. Boone has always set high expectations for herself, and that has undoubtedly helped propel her to the top.


But after a string of serious injuries in 2016, including a femoral stress fracture, her athletic performance declined. At first, Boone expected to recover quickly from her injury. When that didn’t happen, she was disappointed. Once she finally recovered from the injury itself—slowly, over the course of many months—Boone found that she had “underestimated the length of time needed to rebuild as an athlete after a year on the sidelines,” she told me. Disappointment yet again.


Striving for big, hard-to-reach goals is good. Up to a point.


In a recent blog post reflecting on her experience, Boone writes that she was tempted to wait until she felt fully ready to race again, “until I’d regained all the strength I’d lost, until my running paces had come back, until I was sure I could go out there and dominate.”


But she realized this attitude may have been setting her up for even further disappointment. What if she never felt fully ready? What if her strength and running paces never completely returned?


“[I realized] I could set aside my ego, toe the start line feeling less than confident, and accept what my current limitations were,” writes Boone. “I could accept that I’m rusty, accept that I’m scared, and accept that the results may not be what I like. Essentially, I could accept where I am in the process and be okay with that. There’s freedom in realizing your expectations are only constructs you create in your own head.”


The problem with placing too much emphasis on your expectations—especially when they are exceedingly high—is that if you don’t meet them, you’re liable to feel sad, perhaps even burned out. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for excellence, but there’s wisdom in not letting perfect be the enemy of good.


To read the rest of this story, click here to be routed to the full version on Outside Online.


In addition, I recently had the chance to go deep in conversation with Shalane Flanagan, New York City Marathon champion. A distilled version of our talk is here, also as a part of my ongoing work with Outside Online.


Coaching Corner: After a Breakthrough, Back Off!


400 meter repeats; twenty of them in total with a scant 60 to 90 seconds of rest in between. Starting at 60 seconds per 400 meters, and ending number 20 in a blistering 50.1 seconds.


This mind-blowing workout comes from the log of Alan Webb, performed in the weeks leading up to his American Record (3:46) in the mile. In a recent podcast with Alan, we broke this workout down rep by rep; but what struck me wasn't the awe-inspiring workout, but what he did the following day; he rested, completely.

One of the lessons that I've learned in coaching elite runners is that when you are riding the razor's edge of stress and recovery, when you have a phenomenal day, that isn't a signal to push forward, it's a signal to pull back.


Yet our temptation is often to do the opposite. How many times do we get excited as athletes or coaches after a breakthrough race. "Wow, you just dropped from a 4:20 mile to a 4:10 one!" Then, the next week of workouts we start formulating based on the athlete being a 4:10 miler. Yet, a week ago, he was training as if he was a 4:20 miler.


We get greedy. Excitement and new possibilities fill our minds. "What if I can go faster, work harder, accomplish more..." It's easy to fall into this trap. Part of the human condition, and certainly the athlete condition, is never being fully satisfied. When a breakthrough occurs, it acts as fuel to our motivational fire. But our reaction shouldn't be to drive forward. It should be to take a step back and assess where you actually are.


As Alan aptly put it, he had just completed something that his body and mind had never done before. Even for someone who had run world-class times and workouts preceding this, a workout of this magnitude was unheard of. His body had reached a new level. When you are somewhere you haven't been before, your body doesn't need to press down on the gas further, it needs to step back and absorb what has been done.


The lesson from Alan is a simple, yet profound one. We are our most vulnerable when we are reaching new heights. The prospect for success is at its highest. Don't let the excitement blind you to what you've done. In any endeavor, success begets greed. Next time you have a breakthrough, be it in athletics or in your workplace, remember the lesson from Alan, respect the work and effort it took to reach that performance.


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