An important, yet regularly overlooked area of an athlete’s life is that of transitions.  As an athlete seeking to maximize his talent and performance, one does not just put himself through a grueling training regime over and over again, but is also constantly on the lookout for new things that can be added to the program. Changes in coach, training formula, or sometimes even a simple change of environment, are all commonly cited reasons for an athlete to relocate himself geographically. With a relocation comes athlete transitions.  With a different community comes different cultures, food, schedules, and living conditions in general.  Speaking from experience, I relocated myself from my home in Singapore to be based in Eugene, Oregon, in order to earn a degree in Sports Business and to become the best distance runner I can be. In moving to a new home across the world, I faced a myriad of transitions that nothing could have ever prepared me for. Some of the rougher transitions that initially hampered my performance included a more physical approach taken by my competitors in competition, a college life with more distractions, and a tougher and more strenuous training regime.

Athlete Transitions: Physicality

I arrived in Eugene, Oregon in August of 2014 – just in time for the fall cross country races – and I think it’s fair to say that I was thrown into the deep end of the pool. In my home country of Singapore, we do not have anywhere near the same numbers of participants in our college cross-country races, and certainly not many of those that are at my standard or better. I fully expected tough races against many others, but what I wasn’t prepared for the sheer physicality I’d be facing in such meets. With 30 or 40 runners fighting to be at the front of a race on race courses that are only wide enough for 5 or 6 bodies, pushing, jostling, and elbows are all part of the game. Being caught off guard for this nuance in competition left me “psyched out” and unable to perform at my best for my first few races, before eventually learning how to hold my ground, and sometimes throw an elbow or two, when the situation called for it.

Athlete Transitions: College life – parties, drinking and other distractions

American colleges are known worldwide for their parties – just ask any of the athletes involved in the recently concluded World Junior Athletics Championships, many of whom were asking where the nearest college party was the moment they were done with their events. Upon getting to know my new college teammates at the University of Oregon, I was soon introduced to typical American college parties – late nights, cards, dancing, and alcohol. While I always enjoyed spending time with my friends and teammates, this type of lifestyle was, needless to say, not very beneficial for improving athletic performance. Hence came the challenge of how to start saying no to invites to social events without being labeled as rude or aloof. Transitioning to a new social environment was an extremely important part of my relocation to the University of Oregon. Had I not figured things out early on, this new social environment could have had negative ramifications on my athletic performance.

Athlete Transitions: Training – More, more, more

Joining Team Run Eugene with Coach Ian Dobson at the helm also introduced me to a new training philosophy and schedule. Whilst I only used to train 4-5 times a week in Singapore, Ian wanted me to get my mileage up by running nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. Intensity-wise, I used to do the bulk of my workouts at race pace back home, but Ian trained me differently here, assigning workouts that were regularly slower than race pace, or faster than race pace with a long rest. Doing so, I believed, allowed me to develop different energy systems and “gears” as an athlete, which turned me into a more versatile and savvy racer.

With Ian, I also started doing Strength and Conditioning (S&C) sessions twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (the days before track workouts). This initially left me sore and tight on workout days, and it took me weeks to get used to it. However, when I finally adapted to the sessions, I realized that I felt much better ion weeks leading up to a race and on race day itself, by simply cutting back on the S&C sessions. I credit the increased core strength and stability as being big factors in my improvement under this new training schedule, but it could have easily have gone the other way if I was not patient to see the results, and instead got frustrated about having to do S&C sessions the day before big workouts.

Athlete Transitions – Make or Break

All in all, the transitions an athlete has to go though over a career can be plentiful, and they often happen away from the public eye. Spectators may often see a poor result in competition and automatically assume the athlete is a failure at their sport. However, they might be better to instead wonder if that athlete is perhaps simply struggling with transitions, like any other person would. Transitions can indeed make or break an athlete’s career. The slightest help an athlete receives during those difficult times can be pivotal in defining the rest of their career.

Author: Rui Soh Yong