by Kelly Williamson
Ed. Note—Kelly Williamson re-joins us this week to remind us that late fall is a great moment to take stock of what you've done this year, and to get the space you need to be even more successful in 2019. Williamson raced professionally for over 15 years, racking up over 15 Ironman 70.3 and Ironman victories during her career. Kelly now spends her time working as a coach for Durata Training, guiding her athletes to their own victories, large and small.
“Fall marks the end of producing things (a summer activity) and the beginning of producing insight; as we must have an end before something new may begin.” —David Burger, The Interdependence Paradigm
Fall is a brilliant season. Some of us experience it more fully: the Midwest is tough to beat with its dense trees, but Colorado has been pretty spectacular this year—nights and early mornings are cooler; trees show off bold yellows, oranges and reds; even the daytime air has a crisp edge to it. In a society which seems unable to slow down enough to fully appreciate the changing of the seasons, if there is one which we should try to acknowledge and appreciate, I believe it to be fall.
Athletes constantly seek to attain goals. This pursuit occupies the majority of our seasons: once one is reached, we set the next one. If we miss the bar, we try to reset, refocus, and try to get back on track. While this pattern provides the brilliance of sport (always something to shoot for), it's important to step back occasionally and try to see things from a wider-angle lens. I know in the world of triathlon, it seems that ‘race season’ has become year-round unless you consciously decide what your season entails. What used to be a race season that started in March and ended in October has lengthened to include November and January destination races. Not that these races are bad, and may even make sense to act as a key race (especially when you can work family, friends, or a vacation into the mix). But I caution athletes from letting one season run into the next, without taking the time to reflect, reset and refocus.
As we inch towards the holidays (and what is likely the end of most of your race seasons), I wanted to give a few pieces of advice for how to approach this time of year, while also assuring that you get the most out of the previous months of hard work and competition.
Think back on the past few months. What went well, and what did not? Did you meet the goals you set out earlier in the year? If not, what were the reasons you missed your mark? Were those reasons within or outside of your control? It is important to contemplate the past year with an honest—even vulnerable—eye. Whether you look at it as a successful year or one full of struggle, the best thing you can do to continue growing as an athlete (and a person) is to gain insight from it. If things went well, keep what you did in mind for the future. If some things fell flat, well...now you know what happens when you make those decisions. Don’t be afraid to ask others to talk. There is nothing heroic about doing your reflection alone when you can really use a friend, teammate, or coach to help process things more productively. I believe all experiences in life teach us more about ourselves; take the time to sort through what you have learned and use it going forward.
The value of disconnecting can never be overestimated. I actually think there can be immense value in this ANY time of the year, but especially in the off season. Check your Instagram, Facebook, or Slowtwitch-like sites less. Move these off of an easily accessible location on a device, and pick up a book you have been meaning to read. Walk your dogs more. Cook. Dive into an independent study course. Whatever gets you on a device less is a good thing. What I really recommend is taking a trip during which being connected is not even an option. For us, this year that was the Boundary Waters: five days of canoeing, camping, and navigating with a map and your good old intuition. No GPS. Honestly, five days wasn’t long enough. Try it in any capacity you can—you won’t regret it.
Take the time you would usually be TRAINING to...well, not train. Spend more time with the friends that you had to say ‘no’ to earlier in the year due to a race or an early morning session. Take a trip to see a friend or family. Say YES to the spur of the moment mountain bike ride, hike, or happy hour. Reconnect with friends, family, and other things in your life (even personal aspects that truly need your attention) that feel neglected. View this time of year as a blank canvas, one you can make look exactly as it needs to look for you, one that enables you to be happy, balanced, and healthy as a person and an athlete. There are no rules. Take a giant step away from the usual structure and enjoy the time of year where you can make people and experiences a priority. It’s important. It’s very important.
Think a bit about the path you’ve taken and decide what you want the journey to look like going forward. Maybe you qualified for a huge race in 2019—awesome! You know your ‘path’ may be focused on and revolve around this accomplishment. But the next step it isn’t always so clear. Be honest with yourself. Assure that you’re happy where you are, and if you can’t honestly say you are then make some decisions. Do you need to change direction? These decisions can be difficult, but only you know what the best approach is. And you know what? Sometimes you just don’t know. And that is OK. But you owe it to yourself to try to listen to your Inner Self and respect what the voice is saying. Don’t be afraid to set bigger goals, or even shift AWAY from the ‘big goals’ in the coming year. The important thing is to act in good faith with yourself, following the road only YOU want to follow. Because no matter what, you will be living, learning, and growing, and that in itself should be the ultimate goal.