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The Secret to Under-Performing in Your Chosen Sport


Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, CO
Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, CO

There’s a narrative underlying the culture of endurance training everywhere. Running and skimo are no exception to that narrative. The essence of the sentiment is that “practice makes perfect”, and that the more time we as athletes spend training each day, week, month– the fitter and more competitive we’ll be. It’s an idea that works until it doesn’t. Here’s why.


Endurance sports typically attracts athletes for the health benefits, but many who stay in the sport have a predisposition towards perfectionism, discipline, and maybe even obsession. It’s not that surprising to think that the exact characteristics that allow many to become so successful in their sport could ultimately be taken too far. When coaches and authors feed the idea that “more is always better” when it comes to endurance training, these are the sort of people who take it to heart.


I’ve both witnessed and myself fallen victim to some of the traps that result from over-committing to specificity and the more-is-better mentality. The most common trap is that in order to get better at running (or skimo), you should spend a lot of your time running and/or skiing. Athletes ramp up the time in their schedule that they dedicate to training as far as they comfortably can. When they begin to max out that time, then they start re-purposing time they used to put elsewhere. Often, the first time to get re-purposed is the time that goes towards strength training. Then it’s some of their leisure, recovery, or family time. Maybe next they decide to stop joining their local run group, repurposing the 30 minutes of commute time to the meeting spot for another 30 minutes on the run from their door.


And at every level, we make tremendous sacrifices that aren’t immediately obvious, but the chickens will come home to roost at some point down the road. Cutting into the time put towards other worthwhile pursuits (like mental and social health) not only hinders the quality of the training we instead choose to fill that time with. It also reduces our ability to adapt to that training, and, no matter how much we might want to deny it, reduces our enjoyment of training.


More is not better when you start to sacrifice physical, social, and mental health for long periods to meet its needs, and yet athletes do it every day. The saddest part is that these same athletes are rarely the ones who cross the finish line feeling strong and elated with their achievement. What was all that sacrifice for?


We need to graduate from the more-is-better culture. In doing so, we’ll ironically become happier, healthier, and maybe even better athletes and competitors. When we choose to go for a bike ride rather than force another lap on our normal run training route– when we choose to do a hard strength session, knowing it’ll take us a couple days to recover before we can do a big-volume endurance day– we allow the body to recover in one way, and we also push our body in a different way. We introduce variety mentally, and keep our training exciting, rather than it becoming just another job.


In some cases, we might even find ourselves training more in a week than we once did when we were so focused on “specific training”, for “optimal performance”. In training through a larger variety of ways, we open up greater possibilities for remaining fully engaged in our community, recovery, and enjoyment simultaneously.


Don’t over-focus and under-perform. 


Diversify your training and celebrate your fullest potential.

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