Saturday, February 16, 2013

Training in a Vacuum

To Post or Not to Post?

A few days ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook his distaste for posts about personal workouts. I see this all the time on all forms of social media and occasionally do it myself. People like posting how long they went, personal records, if they struggled or not, whether they threw up at mile 10. With apps that allow us to easily share our data and workouts in real time, this posting is becoming increasingly common.

A short while later, another friend posted her distaste about how people (specifically those "recovering" from eating disorders) post before and after pictures of themselves getting "beach body ready" and losing weight. She wrote, and I agree to some extent, that those who do this are still in the grips of the eating disorder and masking their eating disorder with the excuses that they are just trying to "get healthy" or "getting in shape."

Online social media is not the only place where this happens. I get people at the store who, when asked about the weather, will somehow link it back to how they just completed an awesome workout that left them completely drained. Some see all of these types of sharing as gloating, bragging, and obnoxious, but it is completely normal in my opinion.

While these three types are all different situations and are unrelated topics (I AM NOT SAYING ALL ATHLETES HAVE EATING DISORDERS!!!!), they come back to the underlying need for external validation of our efforts

In many situations, I see this type of posting as people being insecure about what they have done or the training that they are doing. They are insecure about their efforts and whether their accomplishments are "good enough." I can sympathize. I periodically feel like I am not training enough or training too slowly or slacking even though I am following the training program to the letter. This lack of trust can completely derail your training.

Similarly, when posting pictures, we are asking others whether we look good or are skinny enough. We want others to confirm that we are looking good, getting faster, and are really an athlete.

It also shows an ingrained need to compare ourselves to others. As athletes, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others not only in race but also in practice. We do not even need to know the person. Personally, whenever I see an athlete working out, my mind immediately begins to churn with comparisons: "Is he a potential rival?...How fast is he going?...He looks pretty good; I hope he is not in my age group...His form looks a bit off...he most likely could beat me. He looks so good; I wonder what training plan he does..." When I see people post how much exercise they do for the day, I automatically compare what I did that day. "Wow, he exercised a lot more than I did. Maybe I should pick up my training...His metrics are so much better than mine."  I am no biologist, but evolutionarily, this reaction seems ingrained. We may no longer be competing against each other to survive but we still find a need to beat that damn weekend warrior with his race wheels and TT helmet going 15mph down the road on the bull horns (you know exactly whom I am talking about and, yes, I am still trying to beat him).

I have had to work hard to override my initial reaction of fear. When I get those pangs of self doubt and training insecurities, I have to remind myself that I am on the best training course for me at this present moment. I am exactly where I need to be and as long as I keep moving forward and stay on my course I will get to where I am going. Time does not matter because this is a life long journey with many waypoints and "no end." To quote Bilbo Baggins, (yes, my inner nerd is shinning and I am going to have to give myself a wedgie for this one), "The road goes ever on and on down from the door from it began.." Training is an individual journey where everyone goes at their own pace and trying to change lanes and tailgate another athlete (and texting while doing it too) will only lead to a crash.

Moreover, when a simple tweet and Facebook post only gives half the story. I do not know their training history, how long they have been in the sport, and therefore I cannot and should not compare myself to another who may have more experience, time, or talent. That does not make my training worse or their's better. It means that they are on their own road, and so am I.

The same applies to pictures of people attempting to get into their "beach body shape." If done with the wrong motives then it can be incredibly unhealthy. Some people post because they are begging for attention. They want external validations for their efforts; for people to tell them they are too skinny or that they need to eat more. These types of comments were trophies in my anorexic mind. When people said this, I knew I was doing things "right." At the same time, I think they are also posting to have people tell them they look good. They are insecure with their own image and, therefore, want others to soothe the self-doubt and tell them they look good. If and when I post pictures of myself, I do not want people to comment that I look good; they can keep their comments to themselves for all I care (and it would be better too if they did). Instead I post to show people that I am healthy and happy.

Not all sharing and posting are evil. I would go as far as to say that it can be beneficial when done with the right motives. For me, seeing other triathletes' workouts gives me ideas about ways I can improve my own training and workouts that I can try out. Moreover, when I see an athlete accomplish a great workout, I know that I can do it too. When I post workouts, which I try to limit as much as possible, I hope that I too can inspire another athlete or give them ideas.

Regardless, before I post or tell someone about a workout, I think to myself: "If no one in the world would know, would I continue to train? Would I train in a vacuum?" If I answer yes, then I can share if not I let it be. Once I am training for external validation and praise, I need to get out of this sport and become a bodybuilder, which would be quite a sight...but that is my two watts.

1 comment:

  1. I for one enjoy your workout posts. Of course, that might partially be because I actually know you, and can therefore imagine you saying this stuff over dinner at McClurg. But, I also find them inspirational (if I may use what is fast becoming an insipid word).