In April, my training group moves to Flagstaff, Arizona to do a 3-week training block at altitude. Specifically, we train at 6910 feet above sea level, in a dry desert of ponderosa pines. The idea is training our bodies while they are in a hypoxic state will stimulate a natural increase in the mass of red blood cells and hemoglobin. As an endurance athlete, this is a good thing and there is ample research available to support this claim. In my experience, the key is implementing a smooth acclimation period to avoid burn out or inability to recover. Additionally, every year the echoed advice for going to Flagstaff is: Respect the mountain. Respect the altitude.
As I write this today, the camp has since come to a close and I find myself reflecting on the overall experience. What went well? What could have been improved? Did I learn how to respect the mountain? If so, how?
Luckily, we have a thorough Sport Science team from CSI Pacific collecting data and monitoring protocols that make measuring most of these answers factually based.
–> Yes, I perceived the camp went well because:
I was consistently able to put in quality workouts and reach PB paces. My before and after Hemoglobin Mass testing results reported an increase. I performed my best race result post-camp. Based on the reduced quantity of naps in comparison to previous years, I concluded I had higher energy levels. Finally, I am most grateful my body is and was healthy throughout the camp. This final consideration is a luxury in itself!
–> Yes, I perceived I could have improved the camp by:
Paying closer attention to hydration levels. Increased emphasis on being proactive with recovery techniques. Incline/Hill workouts still have a lot of opportunity for growth. The simple act of applying sunscreen thoroughly. Being less afraid when the body has aches and pains before and during workouts.
Overall I am very happy and confident in concluding this was a good camp for me. Even further, Yes, I believe I learned to respect the mountain.
–> The real question, is what and how did I learn from the mountain?
The events that lead to this answer came unexpectedly from my brief encounters with some running celebrities.
The celebrity encounter I’ll discuss here, occurred while I was waiting at Hypo2’s Athlete Services for an appointment that had been delayed at another clinic. I had almost two hours to wait and with permission, was planning to pass time in the side room with a nap on a heated massage table. Naturally, I replaced the fluorescent ceiling lights with a dimmer side lamp. Then I plugged my dying cell phone into the corner outlet to charge. I closed the door so it would be dark, then returned and crouched down to the floor-level electrical outlet to ensure the alarm on my charging phone would be loud enough to hear across the room. While I was in the dark with my phone in a LOTR character Sméagol stature, someone knocked on the door and in walked celebrity #1. The look of confusion on his face to see me in a corner on the floor when he was expecting to pick-up his paperwork in a normally lit room was priceless.
Unfortunately for me the light switch was across the room, and I was instantly starstruck seeing him in person. I soon learned this meant I would become tongue-tied and forget that I had legs that could have tried walking over towards him to turn the light on. Due to my incapacity to move, I was still kneeling, in the dark with my phone in hand. I tried combining a normal hello with why I was there, but I did this in a way that did not make any sense. This was evident in the ominous silence that followed. The little voice in my head kept whispering, Be cool, Adrea. Just be cool. Don’t be a fangirl- act like you don’t know who he is. Even though I obviously knew who he was.
We both just stared at each other and eventually I remembered how to speak. My cheeks were rouged with embarrassment and my first coherent sentence ended up being, “Sorry, who are you?” After that he laughed and without detailed introductions I was able to direct him to the correct room for the paperwork he was picking up. As soon as I knew he was gone I closed the door and covered my face with my hands (Face Palm) while I replayed the last five minutes, which were probably only 30 seconds. I couldn’t believe I just did that. Why was the veil of stardom completely immobilizing to me? Why was I instantly awkward? Why would I act like I didn’t know who he was? Why didn’t I turn on the lights?… More importantly, why did I care what he might think of me?
After laughing the story off with my roommates later that day, I found myself grateful I reached a point where my embarrassment became a reason for laughter. What I really wanted to know was what did I learn? Asking this question eventually led to the conclusion, I fear being vulnerable; likely because it it uncomfortable and requires putting my true self in a position to be judged or possibly disliked. It took recognizing there were two sides to this, instead of only one; option a) I could be disliked, or b) I could be liked. Previously fear was in control and only saw the opportunity to be disliked. Fear aside, the possibility of being liked is something I am new to considering. I honestly don’t know which one would be worse (or better), but at least now I had options.
Either way, I felt enlightened recognizing there was equal probability to be liked as disliked. The aha! moment to shift perspective. In the above scenario I felt startled and know I let fear takeover in the form of being starstruck. As I’m sure others can relate, I went home and was able to create at least 100 other ways I could have handled the conversation in a “cool” way. Most of these scenarios escalade to a point where there is a hello, and a brief introduction of who I am. Maybe with this new found perspective, I will be less afraid to be vulnerable, and give myself the chance to be liked by including an introduction.
In hindsight, this reminds me of first dates. First dates and introductions are hard because you have to be vulnerable. You have to share who you really are, without the barriers, filters, or makeup to a complete stranger. The consequence? They either accept or reject who you choose to show them you are. The moment of truth in waiting to know their opinion is beyond uncomfortable. Not a physical discomfort like workouts on the track, but an emotional discomfort; giving someone else the power to decide if they like you. The important conclusion I came to is regardless of the other person’s opinion, it is still only an opinion. As long as you can look in the mirror and be genuinely happy with who you are, awkwardness, and all is what really matters.
To end on a less embarrassing note, throughout this camp, I ended up running into a handful of other running celebrities. I am proud to say, I was able to speak to them without turning into a starstruck mess. I was able to grow from my previous encounter and realize, at the end of the day, they are just people. Yes, they are extremely talented in their specialty, but they share a humanistic life just like you and I.
In conclusion, in my efforts to respect the mountain and altitude, I was able to learn the above lesson; respect myself enough to be vulnerable. No matter how accomplished some athletes are, it’s the ones who say hello or smile in passing by that seem to have the most impact. I might still be on the verge of running world class times (for now,) but it is not too soon to begin displaying a world-class attitude both on and off the track. I am grateful to have had this mental shift in perspective, even if it meant a few minutes of embarrassing myself.
“Like a wildflower, you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people thought you never would” – E.V.
** P.S. As luck would have it, I ran into this celebrity again at a recent race. Relief poured over me when there was no recognition of who I was from Hypo2. Instead I managed to pull of a quick smile and head nod as we passed each other. I received the nod and smile back. Redemption! It feels good.
Thanks for reading!