As athletes, we all have strengths and weaknesses. From your diaper days in athletics, I’m sure you’ve been harped on to “work on your weaknesses.” Like most statements, this is, in one sense very true. What I would like to remind you, however, is that embracing what makes you “you,” honing in on it, and maximizing that to the fullest is going to overwhelmingly be your greatest weapon when you battle in the arena.
First, a reminder to work on the other side of the coin. Perhaps you are a naturally fast twitched individual – sprinting is enjoyable for you, but longer efforts and sessions are difficult. If so, you share almost nothing with the writer of this blog. For what it’s worth, I dedicated 8 years of my life doing ballistic weight training so I could squeeze as much Tyson Gay out of my body as was there, so I do know, very intimately, what it feels like to look at your body and say, “We are going to do the exact opposite of what you are built for.” Interestingly, the older I’ve gotten, I’ve had to meet the ‘weaknesses’ and decide what hills are worth dying on. Simply put, I can’t do box jumps and 100 meter sprints forever – I’ve learned that the risk of injury and thus, lost training time, is much worse than a reduction in finishing speed. This risk-reward ratio is something to consider and a part of this equation.
Personally, I respond to, and most importantly, enjoy, longer training sessions, higher volume, and a lot of L2-L3+ effort work. Coaches and scientists might caution against a lot of effort in this range, and sane people might think it is unnecessary to log the hours and miles I do. Again – in a sense they are totally justified, and I would be wise to consider their logic and arguments. However, in a sense, I could also argue against their claim by saying 1) training like this is enjoyable for me, which gives me confidence in my work and leads me to train more – 2) Training more is good just so long as recovery is sufficient for adaptations, and the fact that I am listening to my body properly and adjust accordingly within a structure that fits my natural skillset allows me to do this better (perhaps…..just a theory) – and 3) I am finding improvement in performance. Though number three is huge, it isn’t sufficient justification for what I’m doing. After all, what if a different layout/plan/approach resulted in greater improvement?
Aside from training theory, there is another, more fun (because it’s less argumentative, probably) part of this tip I want to touch on as well. “Secret Sauce” can also function as a catch-all-phrase for whatever aspect of your life gives you a unique edge. Perhaps you live in a place where it is brutally cold and windy, where fast snow is rare, and where corduroy is a type of pant you wear (looking at you, people in Moorhead, MN!). Embrace this as a critical ingredient to your secret sauce that will make you tough on race day. No one will handle “SMR Stampede conditions” like you, no one will find it easier to balance on a real skate deck than you, and no one will cherish a race course but be ready for the unexpected and uninvited weather calamities, quite like you. Allow it to give you an inner confidence. Factors which are negatively impacting others won’t affect you – a decisive competitive edge.
During my first year in Leadville, I did not own a pair of waxable classic skis – not a single pair – until a couple of months before my first race. As the day approached, I considered not even showing up to the race. The high school coach saw my situation and chucked an old pair of Madshus skis my way. They ended up serving me in all of my races, as I didn’t buy the RCS Fischers until the year was almost over. Now, both of those skis are my practice/rock skis! In October of that year, I went on craigslist and purchased a couple of pairs of fishscale skis. I didn’t really know what I’d need, but I wanted to spend less than 40 bucks and have something to use on the gravel roads up in Beaver Lakes estates, where Christie and I lived. I purchased two skis and used them for a couple of months, double poling and striding on the steep and unforgiving roads by our place. My grooming quality was dictated by the number of cars which drove by our house and matted down the snow.
The nature of the terrain, the quality of my skis, and the overall environment I was in all served to make me a tough skier, radically shift my perspective on what was possible (especially in terms of what could be double-poled), and made groomed trails seem so easy. This naivety with which I approached some long distance races ended up benefiting me immensely. As you can see, all of the factors comprising my situation, which could have been framed as negative, ended up being incredibly positive for my racing.
We can probably all think of circumstances, whether it is an injury which forces us to hone in on an often neglected aspect of sport performance, or a geographic location, schedule restraint, or weather related component that prevents ample access to typical training forms. These are the ingredients you can add your own “secret sauce.”
Instead of getting down about perceived barriers, embrace, with confidence, these pieces of the puzzle as critical elements to making you “you,” the best champion you can be.