Today in our morning trainer class we had a field test. For anyone out there who hasn't had the displeasure of hurting yourself with one of these, it's basically a fitness test. You ride as hard as you can for a predetermined amount of time(in our case, 8 minutes), and collect every type of data that you can-power, heart rate, speed, cadence; etc. That data is then used to set up your training plan.
8 minutes can be a very, very, very long time when you're going as hard as you can. For anyone that hasn't done one before, I try to persuade them to ease into it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I can usually tell when someone isn't going to be doing the easing into it. He(it is-literally-always a guy) has that look in his eye that says, "I got this". He may even say "I got this", or something else along those lines, like "I can do anything for eight minutes", or "8 minutes-is that all?".
He doesn't got it. Needless to say, in those cases there is a violent change in attitude somewhere around the third or fourth minute. At about that time, you realize that the first 4 minutes have somehow taken approximately 17 hours. And you're only halfway done.
Anyway-suffice to say that it's a difficult effort.
When we were all finished, we looked at the results. And, like almost any test, some folks were happy with the results, and some weren't. We talked about it a bit, and I tried to manage some disappointment for folks who didn't do as well as hey had hoped. Some folks just didn't do as well as they had thought they would, and some did a little worse than last time.
I tried to explain a couple of things: First, for those of us that are regular working people, there are a lot of factors that go into success/lack thereof in a test like this. Sleep, stress of any kind, flu, big weekend; etc. We're just not always going to be at our best at 6am on a random Tuesday morning.
The second point, in my opinion, is a bit more important. What I really wanted everyone to get is that there is value in the effort.
There is always something to be learned by doing something as hard as you possibly can. Aside from just being a great workout, you learn how far you can go without blowing up. Or, VERY IMPORTANTLY, you learn what kind of signals your body gives you right before you blow up. You learn how to motivate yourself to keep going when you just want to get off the bike and go jump off the nearest cliff. All kinds of useful information.
This lesson is true in other contexts. I knew a coach who would occasionally tell his hesitant racers, "There are two places you can finish in today's race. Off the front or off the back". He wanted them to blow themselves up and find out what happened along the way(or, of course, find out that they didn't blow up). He wanted them to try as hard as they possibly could, and see what happened-good or bad. Like walking around in a dark, unfamiliar room-you don't know where the walls are until you smack into them.
It's also true, although in a slightly different way, on a macro level. I reached a point a while back when, after about five years of training as hard as I could, the numbers stopped going up. I just stopped getting better/faster. I realized that, although I could still carve out some small gains, I had, for the most part, reached my ceiling. I had gone as far as I was likely to go.
It was an interesting moment. Until that time, I realized, I had been fueled by results-progress. I could see that I was becoming a better bike racer, getting lighter, pushing the pedals harder, and that provided plenty of motivation. But...that was gone. I had plateaued. I figured that I would probably quit. I think that that's how a lot of us feel-if we're not going forward, making progress, what's the point?
But after mulling it over for a while, I realized that it wasn't just the results or progress that kept me coming back. I liked the work-the opportunity for self-discovery, the way being race-fit made me feel, the friends that I met along the way, almost everything about it. I enjoyed the process, and I valued the effort. It was worth it for its own sake.
So maybe keep that in mind the next time you set out to test yourself, or even just do something extraordinarily hard. It's great to get a good result, but never miss the opportunity to learn something in the process.
Good luck in your next test, whatever it is. You got this.