Mark Mansoor

Avoiding Staleness

During the months when there are not a lot of tournaments, it can be easy to lose momentum and enthusiasm for training. I went through a period recently where I felt like I was getting into a bit of a rut, but after a vacation I was refreshed and ready to go again.  Like a small child, I require novel stimuli to keep my attention.

1. Always remember what is the next tournament you are training for. Always have a next tournament you are training for.

For me, it’s easiest to stay driven when I have an event to look forward to no more than a couple months in the future. Since I didn’t qualify for division 1 championships in April, I signed up instead to compete at the women’s épée Grand Prix event at Fencers Club in New York. It’s a bigger women’s event than any of our locals except the Remenyik ROC in the fall, so I am really looking forward to it (and to bouting the days beforehand, and exploring the city – I have never been except to pass through the airport on my way to an event in Connecticut.

2. Seek out new bouting partners.

When I was captain of the épée squad at the University of Chicago, I felt very strongly that our small group was not enough variety for bouting. If you aren’t careful, it can be very easy to fence the same bout with a teammate over and over again instead of practicing a particular action or thinking about creative tactical choices. In most tournaments, you won’t know your opponent, and solving a style you haven’t seen before is a skill that needs to be practiced like any other.

How to solve this dilemma? I consistently encouraged our fencers to head up to Windy City Fencing Club, where I was already a member, for open bouting nights on Friday. Everybody would pile into my car around 4 and we’d be back in Hyde Park around ten, happily exhausted from all the fresh opponents. I think that was one of the best practices I implemented as captain; the épée squad had a standout performance for our school at both the Midwest Fencing Championships and the Collegiate Fencing Championships my senior year. Though they don’t have a carpool anymore, some members of the team make the trek north on occasion, and I know they benefit for it.

“Consistently encouraged,” right.  If you asked them, I bet they would  use words more along the lines of “relentlessly nagged”…

Now that I am working full time and coaching part-time at WCFC, it’s harder to make it to other clubs for practice. In April, though, I took a couple days off from work and went to Boston to fence at Olympia Fencing Center, where my coach is working, and at Boston Fencing Club.  I fenced three hours a day and was completely exhausted, but when I came back I felt inspired, energized, and focused in a way that kept me going for weeks.

3. “Keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy.”

With the unending overlapping fencing seasons, sometimes it is really necessary to step back and take a few days of break.  Anybody who knows me will tell you that I hate to miss practice, but sometimes I do get worn out between practice and my full-time job, so I’ll skip a day of practice and spend two days in a row doing no more taxing exercise than a nice walk. When I come back I move with fresh legs and see with fresh eyes, and I know it was a good decision.

It can be hard, though, to see when a break like that is necessary! High-performing athletes are skilled because they are driven to work hard and want to see constant improvement.  But sometimes, that same intensity can hold you back.  Remember that the real improvements to your fitness happen during the space in between your workouts, and take your rest seriously.

My Summer Nationals has just ended.  Usually I’m the first person back at the club, complaining that my teammates are on vacation,  but this time I’m going to take a couple weeks to catch up with friends, get to bed on time, and work on general fitness on my own.  When I get back to practice, there will be no holding back; but in the meantime I am not going to rush.

(Reader, I typed most of this draft up a while ago but forgot to publish it promptly.  Forgive if it occasionally sounds like I think it’s still May.  I’ve been super busy since then with fencing and life plans, which I’m sure I’ll be writing about more in the next few weeks.  Thanks for your patience in between posts!)

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