I have always seen discipline as the most valuable trait of an endurance athlete. The beauty of endurance sport compared to most others is there’s a very strong correlation between effort in and the results out; they say “sprinters are born, distance runners are made”. Growing up with my existence defined by running has meant that discipline is something I have developed into quite a strength, something that has brought me a lot of success in many areas of life. It’s something that can only be developed by constantly facing the sloth inside you, pushing through the inertia to get out the door. When you do finally control that sloth, it’s an amazing feeling. Your discipline becomes a warrior inside you and you start to see the world for its opportunities rather than its constraints. The poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley sums it up perfectly: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul”.
It wasn’t until this year that I discovered that there’s a lot more to running success than just discipline. Once the warrior of discipline is born, it becomes so great at conquering the sloth inside you that it's easy to make it the only voice you listen to. After a while, it becomes hard for the warrior to work out which voice is the sloth and which voice is actually a monk telling slowing down before you burn out. I learned this the hard way when trying to balance a 20hr a week training load with my first full-time job out of university. I would come home from a hectic 11 hours at the office drained and stressed. My inner monk would tell me to relax and recharge, but the disciplined warrior convinced me that it’s moments like this that shape my career as an athlete. I would work through a session that absolutely grilled me (I’m already running on reserves by now), but applaud myself for the suffering even if the pace was way below my capabilities. I’d be off my game for the next week, but instead of asking myself if I was overtraining, I would curse the fact that I had the mind of a warrior, but inherited the body of a weakling.
I’ve learned that it’s little use having unbreakable discipline if you aren’t keeping tabs on the health of the body and mind, plus always having something spare in the reserve tanks for when things go wrong. When you’re so focused on a goal it’s often hard to step back and review if what you’re doing makes sense in the big picture. In my case, the fatal flaw I had made was getting into the mindset that the quality of my training is defined by how much suffering I put the body through, not the amount of strength, conditioning and aerobic capacity that I was developing.
The way I see it when you’re balancing sport and career, discipline, good coaching/mentors and time management act as vehicles to success, but ultimately the effectiveness of these are determined by the health of your key assets, which is your body and mind.
In the big picture, there are no silver bullets to instantly drop your times or improve your effectiveness at work, just incremental improvements. Similar to a company, your body is a complex system with many variables that can affect your peak performance. To some extent, I believe there’s value in developing systems and habits to help you perform, just like your company has set systems and processes to ensure you don’t lose key clients or burn the place down. I ultimately believe that long term success comes from finding what works for you (whether it’s recovery exercises, productivity systems or sleep patterns), making this a habit, then continuing to build on the system.