Chris Carmichael Blog: Guiding athletes through and out of the darkness

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” Well, the darkest point within an athlete’s training plan is often right about the time of their last big training block, which is typically about a month out from competition (sometimes closer, depending on the event). You’re fatigued and the workload of training has been so high that your power numbers, paces, and energy levels are probably lower than you want them to be. Six months before an event that’s no problem, because you see a long runway between you and your event. But when the runway is really short and the event is right around the corner, it’s not uncommon for athletes to experience anxiety about their conditioning. They wonder if they’re ready, if they’ve done enough, or if they’ve done too much. And it’s not just age-groupers or novices that experience this dark period: every single Olympian, World Champion, National Champion, and pro I’ve worked with has experienced the same phenomenon.

It is during the tough and uncertain periods that, as coaches, we can help you the most. When an athlete is feeling strong, confident, and secure, life is grand. But to achieve peak performance you have to push yourself outside your comfort zone and commit to hard work.  Along the way there will be times when you are fatigued, and that’s when self-doubt and insecurities come flooding to the forefront. A coach’s most important job is to guide athletes through these dark periods. Actually, it’s our job to push you as far into the dark as possible – to create the biggest training stimulus we can – and then guide you back to the light stronger and faster than ever before.

If you haven’t already, I suggest reading “Personal Best” by Atul Gawande on Dr. Gawande examines the need for and benefits of coaching for professionals of all walks of life. Musicians and singers, he points out, think of their coaches as “outside eyes and ears”. They hear and see things that even the best performers can’t detect about their own performances. In endurance coaching, anyone can design hard workouts. Anyone can make you tired and push you into the darkness. What I spend my time teaching coaches is how to lead athletes through and out of the darkness, and that’s the reason CTS Athletes consistently exceed their performance expectations. That’s why 7 CTS Athletes won at 24Hr National Championships last week, why Katerina Nash won the first 5 cyclocross races she started this season, why CTS athletes consistently beat the overall finishing rates at the Leadville 100, and why triathletes rely on CTS when they decide to step up to Ironman.

This was a great week to be a coach. Best of luck to all the athletes competing in the Ironman World Championships, the US Grand Prix of Cyclocross, and countless other endurance events this weekend! And remember to register for the CTS Lottery for Premium and Ultimate Leadville 100 Coaching/Camp Packages that include an entry into the 2012 Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race!

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems



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