Running
October 23, 2018

Be Careful Who You Listen To

Runner and Coach in the Coached Lab

Years ago, when I was still young and early in my pro career, I used to drive my coach crazy.

I was so eager to get better that I spent a lot of time thinking and obsessing over what I should be doing. I was convinced there was a better, faster way to get the results I wanted.

I watched triathlon dvd’s, read triathlon magazines (yes, I am that old) and as time passed, the websites that were replacing them.

I spent hours training and chatting with training buddies, comparing what they were doing with what I was doing.

I noticed their training volume, intensity and race choices.

I looked at what they were eating and how they were fueling their training and racing. I looked at the gear everyone was using.

It’s there the doubt and questioning began to bubble at the surface.

After half-ass doing what my coach advised and half-ass copying the approach of others, my results were not what I wanted.

Fed up, my coach intervened.

While not his exact words, the gist of our conversation went like this.

Coach: “Ben, I believe you can be a good athlete but you’re making poor decisions that are affecting your ability to improve. Rather than looking for a magic pill, you need to believe in our process and in the training and advice, I am giving you. Without that trust, this is not going to work.”
Me: “But [insert athlete’s name here] is doing [insert training method/gear/etc here] and it seems to be working. Plus, I read something that says it’s good so why shouldn’t I try it?”

Coach: “Maybe it is good but maybe it’s not good for you. Instead of trying everything you read or hear willy-nilly, you need to be more deliberate in how you filter and apply it. If you’re only doing some of what I advise and the rest is coming from different sources, how will we ever know what is working and what is not? When things go well (or bad), we won’t know whether that’s the result of the work we are doing or whether it’s due to the other things you are experimenting with.“

Me: “So what do you want me to do?”

Coach: I need you to stop listening to so many voices and I need you to let me be your filter. Before trying anything, you need to come to me and we need to discuss what you want to try and why you think it will help you. From there, I will run it through my filters, my experience, and we’ll make a decision on what to try and what to do away with. Do you think you can do that?”

Me: “I guess so.”

Coach: “Good, because if things continue as they have been, I’m afraid this isn’t going to work. Are you clear?”

Me: “Crystal.”

The message was received and it turned out to be fantastic advice.

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Be Careful Who You Listen To

With information so readily available and everyone willing to share their opinion or advice, it’s very simple to get caught in the trap of thinking there is a faster or better way.

I am constantly speaking with athlete’s who are listening to too many voices, just as I used to and bouncing all over the place. They’re trying different training methods, diets and gear without any structure or a way to measure whether it’s working.

It’s no surprise that their results are not great.

When you listen to too many voices and fail to filter appropriately, you’ll find yourself in this situation – confused, unfocused and lacking confidence.

1. Confused
With all of the world’s information now available online, there have never been more voices. For everything you read, it’s likely you can read the exact opposite point of view, all seemingly backed up by scientific studies. This is obviously confusing and can lead to a lack of focus.

2. Unfocused
When you are confused or you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to lack focus. You jump around trying different things hoping to find one that will work for you. The problem is, the less focused you are and the more you chop and change, the less likely you are to succeed.

3. Lacking Confidence
As you consistently fail to achieve the result you want, your confidence begins to suffer. You begin to question your abilities, your approach and whether you should be doing this. It sucks the joy from the process and your motivation wanes. Sooner or later, it’s not uncommon to give up altogether.

Filter All Advice

When you hear a piece of advice that resonates with you and you wish to see if it works for you, you need to plan and allow enough time (3 – 6-months seems to be a good timeframe for most changes to show themselves – good and bad) to test the changes.

Never try something for two weeks, decide it doesn’t work and move on to the next thing. Many changes are happening at a cellular level so your body needs time to adapt before it will respond positively.

Figuring out what advice to take and what to ignore is something that I still struggle with. I suspect it’s something I’ll always struggle with, but I’m getting better at it.

When considering advice, you need to filter what you are hearing.

Four Things To Consider When Taking Advice

1. Perspective
When I began my pro racing career, I would often ask other athletes which race I should do.

Some athletes really enjoyed the thrill of competition and always strived to race the strongest fields. These athletes would always recommend the toughest races.

Placing and prize money motivated others. These athletes always recommended a race which would be easiest and offer the greatest chance of winning some prize money.

For obvious reasons, whichever perspective the athlete had made a huge impact on the advice that they gave. Not everyone you ask for advice is looking for the same result as you are.

Consider not just the advice, but the perspective that motivates it.

2. Experience
Most people tend to give advice from their perspective and from their experience.

When you ask someone for advice, it’s common for them to draw on their experience, experience that may be substantially different to those you have experienced. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is worth considering.

For example, if the person offering you advice has never suffered from prolonged injury, it’s likely their advice will be coloured by that. In this example, their advice might be to do more volume or intensity than what is suitable for you, given your injury history and biomechanical issues.

While it’s useful to get advice from people with varying experiences, always take the context of the person’s experience into account. Do they mirror your own?

3. Bias
It is human nature to give more weight to the advice you subconsciously already agree with. Like a person’s experience, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to be aware of.

It’s hard work to try and strip your biases as you consider advice, but recognizing those biases is an important step in giving all good advice the consideration it deserves.

4. Consequence
At the end of the day, no matter who dispenses the advice, the final decision lies with you.

Sometimes the advice will pay off and you’ll benefit. Other times it will fail and you may find yourself injured or sick.

Regardless, if you choose to follow someone’s advice and it doesn’t work out, it’s not their fault, it’s yours. You executed on it.

Be certain you can take hold of that responsibility before applying any advice you receive.

Getting Advice is Easy. Filtering it is Hard

Getting feedback is one of the most important things you can do, but listening to too many voices can be a recipe for disaster.

Without the appropriate filters, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by advice, and just as easy to forget to think for yourself when people tell you what they would do.

I hope that this post helps you to become a better taker of advice. I also trust that you’ll filter it appropriately.

Coached RunningBen PulhamBen Pulham is a former professional triathlete and the founder of Coached, a heart rate training programme that helps you optimise, track and enjoy your training.