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Do you have a fitness/athletic goal....Are you committed or obsessed?

Posted Jun 23 2013 3:54pm
I can't believe we are nearing July!! In only 5 weeks, Karel and I will be sharing our first Ironman experience together in Lake Placid!! I feel like it was just yesterday when we registered for the race (last July) and it was just 10 weeks ago when we started our key "IM-focused training". Although I feel that athletes always have the opportunity to build on past seasons, there is a special kind of attention and focus that is often made when gearing up for an important race or any endurance event. We must never forget that the body must be trained in order to perform. With the good and the bad (lessons learned) days, any time you have a goal you must be willing to be disciplined, determined and committed. For many times, it is when things get tough or challenging that you are most vulnerable to quitting but many times, it is at that moment that you are about to make a breakthrough, a jump on progress or learn something new about yourself. 

Although there are no guarantees in life, you may notice that for yourself (or for others) that there is a big connection between commitment and success. Although success does not have one standard definition, the person who dedicates him or herself to a goal will discover many opportunities of progress than compared to the person who is not focused or desires quick results.

As an athlete all my life, I have discovered many definitions of success with my sport activities/events. Perhaps for yourself, if you have ever tried a new sport, distance or physical activity, you have the choice of doing it when it is convenient (or wishing for it to be easy) OR being committed and recognizing that the situations ahead of you will not always be within your comfort zone. But as we all know, "easy" is rarely associated with fitness gains for the body and mind loves to be comfortable and in order to get stronger, fitter or faster we must respect the body but still, push it to a higher limit. When we are committed to the task at hand, we get to experience this amazing thing called a "breakthrough" and consequently, when this happens, the situation gets easier but the next step is setting a higher goal. And thus, the cycle continues as we look for the easy way but we all know that anytime something gets easy, we look for another challenge and new goal.

The issue for many age group athletes is this idea of commitment which we all must have when training for an event (ex. running race, triathlon, cycling event, etc.). There is an expectation that when you do an individualized sport, it is all about yourself and only you can do the work to get to the starting line and finishing line. Sure, we all need support and help along the way but our goals and level of commitment is based on how much we (YOU) want "it". Thus this is a great thing when you plan your races and training in order to peak at the right time but many athletes take this to extreme and commitment often turns into obsession.

I remember when I was in graduate school to earn a Master of Science degree in Exercise Physiology, school was my life. I kept myself active and trained for a marathon (gotta put all that education to good use!) but above all, school was my top priority. I realized the educational undertaking of graduate school was only 1.5 years but I was fully committed to my education for those 1.5 years. I made sacrifices and did not have much life outside of school but I knew that it would all be worth it when it was over. I remember studying for my exit exams and that took isolation to a whole new level. Morning, noon and night, studying all day and even when I could squeeze in a workout, I felt like I was still studying (and often did on the treadmill or stationary bike). Again, it all worked out and it was worth it.

I had the same experience while obtaining my RD credential but that road was a bit longer (3 years) and I knew that the 10-month internship would be the big commitment so I made sure that I kept myself as balanced as possible throughout the journey of being eligible for my internship while obtaining my pre req courses.

So for anyone who has earned a degree, passed a certification or has dealt with a similar situation of being in school and having to be fully committed to studying all day, every get it. And even if it isn't education-related, it is likely that at some point in your career, that you have had to be 100% committed to the task at hand.

Never would we complain to a person that they are studying too much or that they are obsessed with studying. We know that education is expensive, time consuming and for many, it is specialized. We often do anything and everything to support and encourage those who are in school (or doing something career related) for they need ongoing support and motivation to keep on moving forward and to not quit when things get tough, challenging and overwhelming.

But for any age-group athlete, the commitment that is needed to train and prepare for an event can often get confused with obsession. And thus, rather than getting the support needed to continue, your support-crew begins to complain.

When training begins to interfere with daily activities and relationships, when a missed workouts becomes the "worst" part of the day, when "perfect" is associated with expectations of working out, when you ignore the signs of injury, fatigue, burnout or illness, when your diet/training routine becomes extreme and isolated, when you set unattainable or unrealistic goals/expectations for yourself with training or you live in a bubble of working out, eating and sleeping, one may feel you are obsessed and have taken your training routine to the extreme.

I realize that this can be a hard situation to handle for any athlete and my suggestion is to always set goals for yourself but recognize the journey that is needed to achieve goals. Often times, athletes get so obsessed with the end result that they lose sight of the journey and the progress that is being made. Many times, success comes from worrying less about what others are doing and just focusing on yourself and what you are able to do every day to move yourself closer to your goals.

For myself, I can not dedicate more than 10-14 weeks of my life to a race. I have a lot of dedication within me and my type A personality allows me to stay focused with whatever task is ahead of me. Thus, if I have a goal, I find myself 100% committed to my goal. I try to establish my own definition of balance (which is often re-defined thanks to my supportive hubby) every time I have a goal so that I don't lose sight of all the many important parts in my life that make me happy. This year has been a great year for my career in that I have dedicated myself to many speaking events all over the US and many trips lasting for several days. I found myself with the same commitment and focus to my career as I do with my training and racing and I hope you can do the same.

Whenever you train for an event, I encourage you to find a way to keep things balanced for as long as you can. Sometimes that means talking with your close friends and family and having an honest discussion with your boss and anyone else that relies on you. There are many people in this world that don't understand the commitment, dedication and desire to train for events, whether it is a 5K run/walk or an Ironman. But, you never know who you will inspire as you dedicate yourself to the task at hand in order to achieve your goal. So I encourage you to make sure that you do not become obsessed but instead, just stay committed so that your life isn't extreme in any one way (yes - I realize that training for an Ironman or marathon can be quite extreme but be sure to keep your on/off switch ON at the appropriate time for training and ON at the appropriate time for family, work and social obligations).

Keep things fun, enjoy the journey and be sure you find yourself always making progress. You can't expect to have a great day every day but you can learn something from every workout/experience and if anything, be sure to never make the same mistake twice.

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