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Patterns of Learning

This week was rough. The taper is real. Even though I have not been running hard the last 3 weeks, I was still in taper mode this week, dialing back on the training which means I had more time to think and sometimes that is a bad thing. Little things turned into big things and as I struggled to control my elephant.

(If you watch the video below, the elephant represents the emotional part of your brain, while the rider represents your rational brain. When things get tough, your rider can only do so much and eventually the elephant takes over.)  

THAT is exactly how I felt this week. By Thursday night I was ready to stop everything I had worked so hard to keep together for the last 8 years: no more working out, no more eating well, no more training plans, no more gym, no more, no more, no more. This was clearly me being a tired rider. Recovery from the sprained ankle with an impending goal race finally got the better of me.

After a rest-ish day and a day of working out by myself I was able to see things for what they really were. This is important, because the next time it happens (and it will) hopefully I will recognize the obstacles in my rider’s path before the elephant takes over.


There is a pattern of exhaustion this time of year that goes back to when I was teaching. I am sure it happens to all over achievers and folks driven to do as much as they can from September to June, and I am pretty sure my work environment, the overwhelming amount of work to do in the yard after winter, and the many extra curricular activities happening all contribute to the tiredness. Adding training for an endurance race on top of all that makes for a very, very, tired rider.

I can go back several years to old May blog posts that pull up the same story, year after year. I add too much to my plate, taper week hits and with all that down time the elephant takes over. It’s almost as if I cannot let up on the reins even slightly, because that is  a recipe for disaster.

So how to get the elephant back on course? For me, it only took a day this time, and because I was able to talk it out and put it  down on paper I was able to get things going in the right direction relatively quickly.

First I talked through it to help to start process what was going on:

I had to identify  the obstacles that were suddenly tossed in front of me.

I should have realized during the week as things started to spiral out of control that I was tired, and that trying to maintain a positive attitude about my injury and impending goal race had worn me down. I was already a tired rider going into the week, so any further obstacles in my path-even as small as a pebble-were going to be enough to cause my elephant to veer off path.

But as most lessons learned in life, the learning happens after the mistake. The old me would have wailed on and on about the injustice of it all for days, but not this time. This time I was stronger than the elephant.

I took action that actually empowered me and allowed me to pull that elephant back onto my path.

I recognized what I needed to do and I did it. I went to my old gym, by myself, and did my Friday workout. I felt better physically, I tested my ankle, got moving. And I kind of knew what I was doing. Squats and deadlifts are squats and deadlifts no matter where you do them.

I feel like I have been riding my elephant with a guide by my side for the longest time.


I need to start making my own decisions and taking charge of my elephant. I said in an earlier post recently I feel as if I do not need to go to the gym to train; now I wondering about my reliance on my guide. Having a guide planning my every move and watching over my every move is not really helping me ride my elephant by myself.


I am going back to the whole gradual release of responsibility model. There has to be a plan for progression and knowledge of when to release responsibility over to the student-or the rider. If you were teaching someone to drive  a car you wouldn’t ride with them one day and tell them to try it on their own the next. Circumstances matter. Practice is practice and that is when the teacher, guide, coach, needs to step back and be ready to offer corrective feedback and advice. And the first few attempts at going solo should be supported with encouragement and positive reinforcement. Remember what it felt like to learn something new? I am a big believer in a practice event-a dress rehearsal or a dry run before a big event, to be guided and supported to inspire confidence going into the real event.

But I realized this week when you wake up one day and you do not have a guide by your side you have two choices: let the elephant take over, or take back control and do it by yourself. I realized once again the worst thing that can happen is I fail, or get injured-which is what happened 3 weeks ago. And even though I sprained my ankle and it sucked, I was okay with it because it was my decision to run. I took control of my destiny by making that choice and I learned from it.

I am not sure what my future goals are, but whatever I choose to work on I know I cannot rely on an elephant guide to be there by my side all the time.


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