Nature has a mind of it’s own:  The seasons change, rivers flood, meadows sit silent, hurricanes surge and creeks gurgle.  Every single adjective in all of humanity can be found in any given moment in the natural flow of life.  Nature knows how much of each moment it needs to be balanced and whole. It knows how much calm reflection and how much dangerous destruction.  It knows the perfect mix and when it is short on something, Nature knows the path it wants to be on.

Humans will come in and pretend that they can control the ebb and flow of Nature’s power and direction.  Some think that technology and engineering can tame Nature and bend it’s will to our bidding.  And for a while, Nature will patronize us and allow us to influence the path of Nature.  It will play nice and willingly submit to the limits and direction that we give it, but when pushed to the edge and teased because we get greedy on where we want to live or how we want to travel, Nature will remind us in no uncertain terms who is really in charge because we failed to listen to the warnings.

Anyone who has seen the Grand Canyon should know that if Nature can create that incredible landmark, a little levy along the White River isn’t that much of a barrier.

What fascinates me is how all of this is still so true when applied to the human body on a microscopic scale.  Nature is within each and every one of us and it is still in charge.

Every year, every athlete that I know pits themselves against Nature.  They create a plan (or maybe they don’t) to train and exercise and push Nature to the limit.  People with a good plan include lots of time of calm, reflective recovery and just enough of dangerous destruction to challenge their bodies and minds to become fit and fast.  In a perfect world, Nature will patronize us and let us have the perception of control.  We don’t feel burned out and our muscles and bones seem healthy and strong.

But, if we get greedy and we ignore Nature’s warnings, we very quickly realize the illusion of control and Nature gets back into the driver’s seat to set things right.  Usually with people, the part that is out of whack and out of proportion is the lack of enough calm recovery.  Time after time, athletes will unleash a hurricane or tornado upon their bodies only to unleash another before the most basic recovery has taken place.   I have seen people get away with this approach for a year or a little more and have the best racing of their lives, but maintaining that is a pipe dream.  They surf the biggest wave with skill and grace only to be dashed upon the coral reef that they don’t see coming.

It always comes.  That is Nature’s way.

Phoenix Fitness and Training was founded on the very concept of cyclical patterns, of beginnings and endings, of seasons, of calm and destruction, of burning up in ashes and re-birth.  Each part of the flow of Nature must be embraced and allowed to happen.  We can encourage the pattern and suggest a path, but the ultimate decision is for Nature to make.  When Nature speaks, we all just need to listen.

I was talking with Dr. Joel Kerry after a Butler Women’s Soccer victory.  We talked about how his triathlon season went and what he might be doing during the Winter season.  He said that he heard that it was supposed to be a mild winter this year.  No Arctic Vortexes.  No multiple sub-zero days with frozen icy paths.  Just lots of pleasant days to get outside and run and possibly ride all winter long outside.  What he said next has really stuck with me.  He said that they would sadly be really busy at St. Vincent Sports Performance.  With the nicer weather, more people will continue with their more intense and higher volume training instead of hunkering down inside on the couch and taking some time off.  By capitalizing on the opportunities to train more in the mild winter weather, either their bodies don’t recover from the previous year and injury is the unfortunate outcome or their motivation and enthusiasm starts to stretch thin and disinterest and disconnect is just around the corner.

Many people think that they are immune to these forces and it is only a matter of will power, mental toughness and discipline to control Nature’s ways, but we only need to look as far as the Tour de France and the other Grand Tours, the Giro de Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, to know that everyone has limited time of peak performance no matter what they think.  To pull off a clean double by winning two of these grand tours in the same year is almost impossible.  To ride and race for three solid weeks at the highest level and then try and bounce back to do it all over again in just 6 weeks time has rarely been accomplished.  I remember one of the Tour contenders a few years back was racing up the big mountain stages like a man who felt no pain.  He had no rivals when it came to the climbs and only a few could hope to hold his wheel.  A number of weeks later, he was contracted to race a short tour in the Colorado Rockies and I remember watching a shell of that man struggle to crest the top of the climbs 20 minutes behind the leaders.  Here is a racer who performs at the highest level in the sport, is extremely motivated and talented and is paid a ton of money to ride his bike and yet he found himself physically and emotionally unable to get out of his own way.

Nature will find it’s balance.

Nature will take what it wants to take, when it decides it needs it.  Once Nature has made it’s choice, accepting the path and going with the flow is all that you can do.  Train smarter not harder is a phrase that is kicked around a lot.  To me this is loosely translated to the phrase Listen to your body, to Nature.  I think successful coaches and athletes have a solid sense of when the training plan and Nature are in sync and when it is time to abandon the plan and just listen to Nature.  They are humble enough to admit that they are truly not fully in control and that they are just trying to manage and influence a very complex system to allow them to compete at the highest possible level, because in the end, Nature will always take the path that it needs to take.  Hopefully, with good planning, Nature’s path will always be ascending up to greatness instead of crashing down to disappointment.