1) Injuries: Given enough time, something is bound to happen. I’ve had my share of injuries. In High School I sprained my wrist at volleyball practice. In college, I sprained my ankle twice while pole vaulting, and that was also when I first had problems with a tight hamstring. Shin splints used to be common back in the day when I wasn’t a regular runner too. In college, I learned the importance of icing tender areas to keep them from getting worse. Ice cups are great for the shins, as they massage and ice at the same time. The foam roller is awesome for self-massage and loosening up tight muscles. I discovered the power of the foam roller when training for my marathon – and I think that’s the only way I got through training without taking time off for any full-blown injuries. Take care of things immediately and take time off early on if needed, so you can return to training sooner and keep the injury from becoming even more serious.
2) Fitness. There is general fitness and more sport-specific fitness. I would run some in the off-seasons of college track (summers), but I never had any type of structured training, nor was I very regular about it. I remember once being pleased that I ran 12 miles in one week one time. Like I said, it’s all relative, and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know I would eventually run more than 45 miles in a week, or running more than 30/week for weeks on end would be normal. I didn’t know the great benefits that cycling could bring to me in making me a stronger athlete. I always had the mindset that I didn’t like running very much, and I was just never any good at it (and I guess that means I never would be?). I wish I had done cross training during my summers, more running, cycling, swimming, or whatever! It would have taken my overall fitness to another level and better prepared me to take my sport-specific fitness to another level as well.
3) Off-Season Training. In high school in my day, in my little hometown, my sports had one season. Sure, I would attend a volleyball camp in the summer, but we didn’t have open gyms, clubs weren’t common, and so I focused on my sport during that season mainly. I remember only one winter (I didn’t play basketball so winter was an off-season), where I stayed after school some days and either ran or lifted (we didn’t have treadmills, cross country, or any type of solid distance program, so it was outside on my own in the snow and ice). Otherwise I would just go home after school. I ran distance one year of high school – my sophomore year I ran the mile at most every meet. My fastest mile was a 6:44. I recently ran my first timed mile since those days (more than a decade later), and I did it in 5:59 with no competition around me. This ties in with overall fitness as well of course. My point is though that now I train year-round, even in my off-season, and it makes a drastic difference. If I had been running year-round back then, I could have started making my gains in running much, much earlier.
4) Pacing. I had my first experience of good pacing when I was a senior in college when we had to run the timed 500m for testing during the pre-season. Every year I used to be sick to my stomach thinking about running it, but this year I decided to not go out as hard as all of my crazy teammates. I didn’t get nervous, and I kept calm. I started off trailing but then caught up to and passed some people because they had hit a wall, and I hadn’t. It felt great! Pacing is really important in triathlons, as they are an endurance race (especially the longer you go). Even pacing for an event will make the race a lot more fun, doable, and rewarding. It’s always refreshing to have a little left in the tank for a great finish instead of falling apart and crawling in.
So there you go – some of the things I have learned over the years that I would love to go back and tell my former self. But alas, you live and learn, and you get to keep getting better as you age instead!