The great Winston Churchill is known for the famous quote: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. Churchill had a way of cutting right to the chase while connecting with a whole lot of people. There’s a lot
to this quote and I believe it has been very influential over the years. However, (Disclaimer: the following is out of no disrespect!), in my post “Practice Makes Better, Not Perfect” (found here), I outlined why it is important to keep in mind that fixating on perfection can be detrimental to our ability to improve, train, and perform well. So, I’ll rephrase Churchill’s quote for the sake of consistency: To improve is to change; to get even better is to change often. It’s been almost 9 weeks since I registered for Ironman Canada and I thought it would be good to provide some updates on my progress. In a nutshell, a lot has changed since October 1st, 2016 and it probably isn’t a surprise that I’ve seen improvements both physically and mentally. Since this blog primarily focuses on the “head game”, I’ll only share some brief bullet points regarding my physical performance observations and then I’ll dive into what I’ve noticed has changed for me psychologically.
- I’m able to train more
- I am getting stronger but my endurance has improved most.
- My heart rate is much more stable while exercising at a higher level and I recover to a resting state much faster!
- I have some pretty steep hills on my neighborhood runs that I have been doing for years and I am now able to tackle those hills much more efficiently and I no longer have to stop to walk at the top.
- My cycling endurance and Functional Threshold Power (FTP; i.e., the highest level of power output one can sustain over the course of an hour or so) has significantly improved likely because cycling is my biggest area of growth
- When I wake up in the morning, I don’t ache
- I am much more flexible. In fact, I think this is the first time in my life that I can touch my toes without feeling like I’m going to break in half!
I’ve noticed many changes over the course of my “preseason” in my training, at home, and at work. First and foremost, in my training I find that I welcome the idea of working out. In fact, I look forward to it and do all I can to structure my time in a way that doesn’t interfere with work, family, and training.
Secondly, I have noticed a drastic increase in my ability to refocus my attention and I think I have mindfulness to thank for this. Specifically, when I’m in pain or exhausted, I am more readily able to refocus my attention on my process-oriented goals. I have only had to make one adjustment to these goals since setting them back on October 6th (i.e., While running I found it difficult to visualize a green ball moving inward and outward from my mouth when inhaling and exhaling, respectively. Instead, I now focus directly on my breath and relaxing my lower jaw) so I’ve been able to put in some good practice time here. Integrating the benefits of regular mindfulness practice and process-oriented goals has been extremely effective and I am certain my performance is better because these practices work so well together. Positive self-talk and smiling have also served me well when I have difficulties with motivation and during difficult sections of my workouts.
Finally, at home and at work I have noticed that I am much more energetic, my overall mood has improved, my stress level has declined, I’m more productive and engaged, and my concentration has improved leaps and bounds since I started my physical and psychological training back on October 1st. Also, interestingly I’ve noticed that I am able to catch things I drop before they hit the ground more frequently.
The Science Behind My Observations
In an article published in 2014 by Drs. Zhu, Jacobs, and their colleagues, the reasons are outlined as to why I am likely noticing these improvements. Specifically, these researchers conducted a study that ranged across 25 years that provided evidence to support that better cardiovascular fitness is associated with better cognitive functioning. They indicated that physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and body, enhances the development of mitochondria (cell structures that increase and maintain energy levels), and that increasing one’s heart rate with exercise improves the brain’s ability to grow new brain cells.
Overall, it’s clear that science provides some pretty convincing evidence that it’s important to stay physically active. Knowing these findings in more detail and observing these awesome changes in myself has made me appreciate my decision to tackle an Ironman even more.
Until next time…
If You’re Interested:
One of my favorite studies referred to as “The Nun Study” also seems to have some relevance. In this study, researchers found that staying both mentally and physically active has been associated with maintenance of cognitive functioning and the prevention of cognitive decline. See a video summarizing the study here.