Yeah, I kinda suck at this--as athlete's blogs go, mine isn't that great. It comes across more as a coaching and life advice blog, but leaves out all of the cool stuff I see other athletes putting out there. Things like race reports, product reviews, merchandising, branding, and all that other happy horseshit people appreciate seeing when they subscribe to a site.
I'm on it, I swear. The problem is that it's hard for me to get motivated to write and, when I finally do, it's usually a direct response to something I've read or witnessed and feel a need to address. I create rebuttals to arguments I'm not even having, mostly because I can't stand misinformation, even if it's free of malice and just a product of someone not seeing the big picture.
For me, it comes from a place of feeling responsible for my audience and wanting to provide some framework for tangible self improvement--I don't get off on writing or performing for my own sake, so unless I feel like there is someone out there benefiting from my output, I tend just to leave things alone. That makes for inconsistent delivery, but I like to think it's worth it for you when it finally comes.
So when I see a post that is clearly wrongheaded getting any type of traction on social media, I tend to build responses that I hope will get people back on track or, at the very least, get them exercising some divergent thinking on the topic at hand so as to make a better choice about the whole idea (or globally, for that matter). Hence, my #dobetter hashtag that some of you--a small, dedicated group to be sure--might have seen.
I don't like fluff or content for the sake of content, but I also know that it's a challenge to build any type of interest or following if you're not willing to at least ape some of the conventions that exist in social media. And, quite frankly, I don't have the talent to cobble together a video of me running through some woods or on a mountain trail with tinny dance music that I composed myself thumping along to my footfalls. That's not in my wheelhouse.
But what I do have are a very particular set of skills.
I'm good at coaching. Be it self-coaching or the training of others, I generally know what I'm talking about. That's why this blog tends to turn into an advice column more often than not, rather than a collection of race reports or shoe reviews. That being said, I'm working on those--I just completed four races in three weeks and could easily write a report on each one, but instead, I'm going to fall into my usual habit of providing coaching to an unseen audience. Or at least a coaching concept that is worth exploring, in my opinion, even though it's being told through an athlete's perspective.
This athlete. An athlete who made a mistake.
See, I just completed those aforementioned races over the last three weekends. In those four races, I completed a total of 140km of cycling and 92.5km of running--all of which were racing kilometers, which means HARD. The first race was a 26.5km ultra trail "half," the second was a 100km mountain bike race followed immediately the next day by a 50km ultra trail marathon, and on the third weekend I completed a road duathlon that consisted of a 10km run followed by a 40km ride followed by a 5km run.
I knew I was doing all of these races far enough in advance that I tried to plan accordingly. But, much like Mike Tyson is fond of saying, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." In my case, recovery was the punch in the mouth. Multiple races are doable, but you have to decide which races are "A" races and which races are "B" races, and you have to stand by that plan. That last part is key.
STAND BY THE PLAN.
Well, I didn't. I decided that the second and third contests, the mountain biking and trail running races that were part of the Rundle's Revenge "Iron Donkey" event, were suddenly more important to me. It wasn't supposed to be that way, as my main goal this year was to get a 2017 worlds qualifier spot in duathlon--that would be the race on the third weekend of these planned events.
In order to accomplish that, I was going to stick to a conservative plan in the first race--the trail half--and take a similar approach with the stage races the following weekend, all so I could taper down my training and show up ready to express all my newfound fitness at the duathlon qualifier.
Instead, I won my age group for the half ultra and came in sixth overall; won the MTB stage, came in second for the 50km, and won the overall event with my combined placings at the Iron Donkey; then showed up to my duathlon dragging residual fatigue along behind me like a boat anchor.
What went wrong? Was it my ego? Is that what drove me to overperform at the stage races, emboldened by my performance at the ultra half? Or was it just bad decision making rooted in poor planning? I thought about this all night before the duathlon and much of the evening after it. What I realized was that somewhere along the line, my mission became a goal, and my goal became a mission. It happened ever so subtly that by the time I noticed it, it was already done.
So why does this matter?
For the last year, I told anyone who cared to ask what I was training for that I wanted to become a pro in duathlon. This isn't easy. You don't get to just announce that you're a pro and all is well. You have to compete, you have to podium, and you have to go from being a grinder in the age groupers (where I am now) to a successful amateur to an elite amateur to--if the stars and planets align--a pro. There are more hoops to jump through to achieve these things than there are in a Ringling Brothers lion taming act. You have to plan meticulously and train intensely and perform at your races superbly, all in a way that borders on superhuman.
Because, from what I have seen firsthand, duathletes and triathletes are incredible. They are experts in their respective fields, have the specific fitness needed to be competitive in multiple sports, and bring it every single time they compete.
They remind me quite a bit of mixed martial artists, my former passion, in that they have to master multiple disciplines in order to just be in the mix during a competition. It's not easy to do. Sports require compartmentalization and multisports require you to do that in two or more sports; that right there is what the nerds like to call a "paradox." Good for sci-fi; bad for athletes.
And considering you don't know who you will be competing against or what their strengths are or whether they've shored up their weaknesses, you have to deal with things that are within your scope to deal with--control the controllable, as it were. The focus has to be on the very next contest--you can't go in distracted or off your game because even a minor lapse in attention could cost you your desired outcome, so you do everything you can to be ready and mitigate anything that might pull from that readiness.
It would have been idiotic of me to play, for instance, rugby in the weeks leading up to my fight; I would have lost for sure or, at the least, made things untenably difficult for myself. Racing every weekend is very similar to that example. Sport specific fitness and peaking are two pieces of the puzzle that you really can't ignore. In other words, nobody that I started my 10km run with on the day of my duathlon was stupid enough to do a 150km stage race the weekend before. I held the sole honor of being "that guy" and it was entirely my fault.
Which brings me to the title of this essay. A vast majority of the competitors I lined up with the day of my duathlon had a mission. I thought I did, too, but by the time I had completed my other races, I showed up with a goal; this was entirely by default, but that was the reality.
And goals don't cut it when the stakes are that high.
Qualifying spots for the 2017 duathlon worlds are few and everyone racing wants one, even when they don't know they are on the line. I could show you multiple posts of competitors who came in sixth place when the cutoff was fifth, kicking themselves for not putting a little more effort into their training or being willing to suffer just a little bit more on the course. Whether actively or retroactively, it's a prize worth the push; the problem is, you have to train for it, plan for it, execute on race day, or all you're left with is wishful thinking.
In my case, I went into this race desperately wanting to perform so that I could secure one of the five spots available and, up until three weeks prior, had trained diligently to improve my running so as to give me a fighting chance. I could have used more road training on my bike, to be honest, but running is where I needed the most improvement so that was my focus. It was more than just a goal.
I had a mission.
But something happened out on the trails during those earlier races. I suddenly found myself forgetting the duathlon and pushing the envelope during the MTB stage and certainly overextending myself on the 50km run stage. All for...what? I'm still not sure, even after winning the event. This race, which I had signed up for as a goal based on a friend's endorsement of it a year earlier over beers and pizza, had turned into an important accomplishment for me in the heat of the moment. I wanted to do more than just finish it; I wanted to get on the podium. It became my new mission...and that's where things started to unravel.
Because pro tip! You can only manage one mission at a time.
As in, you can't ride two horses (or bikes, in this case) with one ass.
Without even realizing it, my duathlon mission--to take place in only a week--was downgraded to a goal by dint of the effort it would take to win the stage race. And it happened so insidiously that I barely registered it until a few days before I was expected to take the start line in what was ostensibly the race I had spent the last several months working on. A brief loss of focus and all your plans are suddenly in jeopardy. I had lost focus and mine certainly were.
That's how you can tell the difference between a goal and a mission. Goals fall by the wayside all the time; people set them and forget them, hardly ever achieve them, and set new ones without much thought. We have an entire holiday based on goal-setting--well, changing the calendar, getting drunk, and goal-setting--that, honestly, nobody expects people to succeed at no matter how well-intention the motivation may be. But missions? Those are few and far between.
When a person has a mission, they go about achieving it with an effort and level of preparation that far surpasses goal setting. It's superficially similar, but not even close on deeper examination. Nobody who has had a mission would ever mistake it for a goal; although, goal setters make that mistake all the time. A mission is the kind of thing that makes you a boring person because you become so single-minded in its pursuit. You don't have to announce your intention to complete a mission because people have already figured it out if they're paying attention.
Goals get launched on Facebook all the time and everybody gets excited...for a few minutes. But once the novelty wears off, all you're left with are some stale likes.
Missions don't need the fanfare. If you have one, you'll accomplish it with or without the likes; actually, the likes will come after it is completed because it will be the culmination of a great deal of time, effort, and perseverance on your part. Anyone who cares about you will notice it before you even have to announce it. Goals come and go; missions are watershed moments in who you are as a person. That's a big difference.
It's also why I carefully select which desired outcomes are goals and which ones are missions at the start of my training cycle, because you can have multiple goals going on in your life, but missions require much more specificity. You can pursue goals concurrently, but missions get achieved sequentially or not at all.
So when the horn sounded at 8:35am to start the duathlon I had trained so diligently for, I accepted that I might not have a mission anymore because of some poor choices and a lack of self-regulation leading up to that moment. The doubt crept in, but it wasn't necessarily over. It just wasn't what I had planned. There were five qualifying spots available and, missions or goals notwithstanding, I had a contract with myself to go get one.
And contracts are binding.