Friday, July 13, 2018

On Experience

Let me tell you about some of the mistakes I have made.

I was working with one of my very first clients when I was a new trainer. It was 2007. I was straight out of school, had just gotten my personal trainer certification. My supervisor handed me a client (because lord knows I couldn't have sold my own services in those days). It was our first workout. I wanted to do some exercise seated on a stability ball. The client told me she wasn't sure if she could sit on a stability ball. I, 22 year old that I was, thought hey! everyone can sit on a stability ball! So I had her sit on a stability ball. She fell off. She was fine. We had a good laugh about it. She worked with me on and off for the next five years.

There was another client, much older. She had some knee pain. She'd never done much exercise before. I was trying to help her strengthen the muscles around the knee to increase the stability of the joint, and I was still young, so I was doing it the only way I knew how. She sort of faded off my schedule gradually, which people sometimes do. It wasn't until months later when I called her to check in and learned that, actually, the exercises we'd done had made her knee pain much worse.

I've been a personal trainer for 11 years now. I've worked with many clients of all ages, sizes, ability levels. I'm also older and understand that just because something seems easy and natural when you're 22 it doesn't mean it's easy and natural for everyone. I recognize much more how little I know. I recognize that I need to respect and trust my client's experiences and perceptions. If someone tells me, "I don't think I can do that," I listen. I may still make them do it, but it will be after careful consideration and preparation.

Some things you only learn with experience.

I hate learning by experience, and here's why:

I grew up bookish and smart. My whole life, I've been able to read and retain and replicate. I learned about camping and boating and swimming and knot-tying and all kinds of interesting things from books. When I started a career in fitness, I cannot describe to you how frustrated I was to realize that there were many things I wanted to know and understand that I couldn't find in books. That's one of the things I originally tried to address on this blog; I wanted to provide information that I wasn't finding elsewhere. But in those cases, the information was out there and just needed to be assembled and organized and synthesized.

Other situations weren't so simple. How do you deal with a client who is going through symptoms of depression and starts crying during a session? More importantly, how do you deal with this client--Margo or Neil or whomever--who is crying right now, right here, in this session? Because you may need to deal differently with Margo than with Neil, and the things that work for Margo in that situation will send Neil right over the edge.

You don't learn how to deal with certain situations in books; you learn by living through those situations (and hopefully not screwing up too badly in the process).

Which brings me to today's topic. Race experience.

There are books about racing tactics, about which lines to take, about how to corner, about how to ride safely in a pack. But do you know how you learn those things? You learn them by doing them. And probably making mistakes along the way.

I haaaaaaaate making mistakes.

But I do it, like, all the time. Here's one that was recently brought to my attention:

I'm the one in the blue jersey at the front doing a leadout and then pulling off to the left, causing the rider with the camera and the woman in front of her (neon yellow JL Velo racer) to slow down. Now, in my head, I thought I was pulling wide after the corner and getting out of everyone's way. Note in the video that is not what happens. And I would never have known about this if a fellow racer hadn't shown this video to me and given me some tips on what I can do next time. Which was not comfortable. Something about having my mistakes called out by someone else gives me a deep sense of . . . I don't know, shame? Something really unpleasant; it's the emotional equivalent of hives, in that it feels emotionally itchy. Even so, I was glad to get this feedback. If this other racer hadn't spoken up, I would never have known that I did this, and I wouldn't be able to do better next time.

Racing is hard. It's physically hard, sure. It feels like your muscles are being sucked out of your eyeballs with needles. It's mentally hard, too, to keep track of 40 to 70 other people, make sure you're not running into them and they're not going to run into you. The stakes are high, as anyone who's crashed a bike at 30 MPH can tell you. Oh, and you're trying to beat everyone else to the finish line, too. And if you've raced, you've probably been around at least one rider who makes you think, "Better watch out for that one!" If not, you were that rider.

Even if you have commented on other racers' squirreliness, you may have been that rider. That's where I'm at. I have enough experience to know what I shouldn't do, but not enough that I can put it into practice (not all the time, anyway). More significantly, it's hard to know when I get it wrong. In the race footage above, I didn't realize what I'd done. I needed someone behind me who had seen my sudden lateral movement to tell me about it. If she hadn't done so, I wouldn't know enough to work on and improve that specific part of my racing.

It's also hard to stay teachable and humble, to be open to feedback, to accept advice, criticism, even rebuke. But that's the only way you can learn from your experiences. And that's the only way you get better at this crazy sport.

Personal goal for the rest of the season: ride smooth. Ride predictable. Ride safe. Fellow NCNCA women, you can hold me to that!

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