Specialization – You Can’t Be A Squirrel

Nineteen years ago I decided I wanted to do triathlons.

I had spent the previous 22 years being strictly a runner.  My life and ego revolved being a runner.  I spent time agonizing over workouts;  how fast or how slow I was on any given workout or race.  If I didn’t get my ‘number’ I became negative with myself, and if I hit my ‘number’ I either felt good about myself, or I quickly expected more of myself right away never appreciating what I accomplished.  I never realized how much I truly didn’t learn how to race, until I took away my watch and numbers.  How often in the past if I had just gone for it if I had only quit looking at my watch, and instead spent my time breathing and just moving faster (or slower).  This was one of my first lessons as an athlete that I hope I can teach my athletes.  It’s not about the watch.

I was fast.  At 40 I was faster (and still to this day in the region) than all my younger counterparts, and to this day those times still stand.  But I could have been faster if I had been smarter in my training.  I would do my workouts at a pace much faster than what I was currently racing at, and then I would show up at races and be disappointed because I ran faster at my workout than I did at my race.  There is a simple truth here people.  Running faster than your current abilities means you are racing your workouts, so when you show up at the race your body is tired and can’t do what you ‘think’ it should do.  Plus, there is no pressure in a workout, because a race will either bring out your best or show you where your weaknesses are in the light of day.

My training was specialized for running.  For running 1/2 marathon to 5k, and even that was a blurry line if I’m being honest.  If you specialize in marathons, you race and train for marathons.  You don’t expect PR’s at all the distances that are available on any given weekend.  If you specialize in 5k’s, then don’t expect a PR in a marathon.

So at the age of 41 I decide to switch sports.  I knew that my PR’s on the road were a thing of the past (or would be) once I changed gears in my life.  Throwing in swimming and biking on top of running just means I would get better at swimming, biking, and my running would hopefully stay close to where I was (or good enough to beat people off the bike).  My expectations for my running were gone, and I was just going to enjoy running for once.  I was going to specialize in being the best triathlete I could.  Which meant that I wasn’t going to win the Tour de France or win time trials because I wasn’t specializing as a cyclist.  I wasn’t going to win Masters meets at swimming because I wasn’t specializing in swimming.  What I was doing was specializing to become the best triathlete as I could.

Yes.  It’s nice to hit the big numbers on the power meter.  It’s nice to ride a course at a faster speed than the year before.    My priority though was to become a strong triathlete.

Then at the age of 55 I decided to switch gears again, and decided to take CrossFit seriously.  I initially enjoyed it as a way to get some strength work into my program.  I started doing it because I couldn’t trust myself to get to the gym and actually do something other than stare at the machines, and then walk out because I was super bored and couldn’t see the point of sitting on a machine doing a movement that really didn’t translate to real movement.  CrossFit taught me how to get stronger, have fun, and not ever get bored.

By specializing in CrossFit I knew that my long course triathlon days were over because I was going to be specializing in this newer sport.  I knew I only had so much energy in the day, and that I couldn’t spread myself too thin because that just leads to injury.  And I was fucking tired of being injured.  I knew that training only five days a week was going to be a huge mind shift, just as it was when I had to train seven days a week in the beginning to satisfy the triathlon gods (i.e. coaches).

I knew that I had to really respect my body, treat it well, and pay attention to all the small things to get to where I want to be, and that didn’t entail whining about how my sprint times were all so slow, or I didn’t PR, or even if I didn’t win my age group.

Specializing means you stick to one thing, and you do it well.

You can’t expect PR’s on your road races if you are training for triathlons.

You can’t expect PR’s at your triathlons if you’re only dabbling in this training, but focusing on your run.

You can’t expect PR’s in the gym if you’re beating your body up on the weekends doing triathlon stuff.  Or running stuff.

YOU HAVE TO PICK A SPORT.  Otherwise you will be mediocre – your mediocre.  As long as you don’t mind not being your best (I’m talking YOUR best, not someone else’s idea of what is best), then by all means……do everything that your squirrel brain wants to do.  Just know that there will be a cost, and lower your expectations.