Monday, February 1, 2010
Excellence is Opportunistic
The miles ticked by slowly. It was frustrating because I could be going much faster. Plus, if I was riding just for fun, I would have taken a different route. I found myself just slogging away. Doing my time in the saddle. Punching my timecard. Then I thought about the ILT's that coach has had me working on. I don't do them very well, but when I do I try to do them correctly - with perfectly round pedal strokes. It occurred to me that at that moment my pedal stroke was crap. I had let my attention falter, and I was putting in junk miles. What could I do? I was stuck out here in east county, going slow as molasses, with 40 more miles in front of me. I could practice Excellence.
I rode for 3 hours and 30 minutes, and averaged a cadence of 78 RPM. That's 16380 pedal strokes for the day. That means I had over 16 thousand opportunities to do it right. To get a full upstroke, carry it over the top, evenly power through the downstroke, and "scrape the mud off" the backstroke. 16 thousand opportunities! And I had missed a bunch of them by being lazy. So I changed my mindset and started focusing on doing the ride properly. I fixed my posture, got on my aerobars, and started working on getting my pedal stroke round. It was pretty tough physically, and mentally very challenging to concentrate on doing it right every time. That's what it takes to be Excellent. You have to take advantage of the opportunities you have, minimize the mistakes, and let the mistakes you inevitably do make be forgotten quickly.
Too often I think about Excellence from the wrong perspective. I look at Craig Alexander or Chrissie Wellington as triathletes, Michael Phelps in the pool, or Peyton Manning on the football field and think: "Those are lucky people to have the gifts that they do. To be heads and shoulders above their peers, who are themselves the best in the world". That thinking is not completely accurate - and it's most definitely not helpful. It's fine to be in awe of spectacular athletic performances, but to write it off as "they have a gift" is insulting to the hard work and dedication those athletes put in to get there. Sure, not everyone has the ability to play golf at the skill level of Tiger Woods. But I assure you there are many people who had the same or better physical ability, the same or better opportunity, and didn't follow through. There are many out there with potential to have been "the greatest golfer in the world" - but there's only one who did it. How did he do it? By being driven, meticulous, and opportunistic.
Larry Bird famously came to practice an hour early every day to work on his jumpshot. He had the best jumpshot in the world, and a reporter asked him why he continued to practice so much when he already was the greatest ever. He said he did it because "somebody - somewhere - was practicing more than me". He knew it wasn't any of his fellow NBA competitors - but he thought that someone out in the cornfields of Indiana was out-working him, and that some day he was going to lose to that kid.
I know that this year I will be competing against thousands of people in my age group. I think there will be 200 in my AG at Oceanside, probably the same number in St. George and Wisconsin. How many of them are working hard today to beat me? How many are drinking soda? How many are working on their flexibility during their lunch break? How many are concentrating on their pedal stroke on their easy rides? How many are doing it right this time? Every time? I need to take advantage of my opportunities, because race day will come - and I will face off against a couple of thousand aggro triathletes willing to do anything to beat me to the line. I won't be first to finish, and I won't be last. But if I'm opportunistic, driven and meticulous then maybe I can be one or two spots ahead of last time. Excellence is a journey, not a destination.
Meanwhile I've got a long run to prepare for tomorrow. Hydrate well, lay out my equipment, eat my vegetables, get a good nights sleep, and then I'll have 9450 opportunities to work on my stride. 2362 opportunities to work on my breathing. A couple of hundred chances to remind myself to relax my shoulders. A chance to see if I like running with my new sunglasses, or if a visor works better. An opportunity to figure out which flavor GU I like, and whether the caffeinated flavors help or hurt my stomach.
Excellence is in the details. I plan on paying attention.
"Excellence is not for everyone" - Joe Friel from his blog