Sarah Groff adjusts to new pace

Courtesy Sarah Groff

Sarah Groff says she's been able to appreciate her surroundings -- and even exchange a joke or two -- during her time training in Spain.

Greetings from Banyoles, Spain! For the next couple of months, this sunbaked Catalan town will serve as my training base and my second home.

If you've ever been to Spain, you've likely encountered the feeling that everything operates on "Spanish time." Shops and restaurants have baffling hours -- they don't open until late, and the world screeches to a halt between 2 and 4:30 p.m. The midafternoon lunch and siesta mean that afternoon shop hours are conveniently late, but dinner isn't served until my usual bedtime.

Transactions here frequently take place at a snail's pace. The grannies who go to the store to buy embotits (cured meats) ask a litany of questions about every single purchase they may or may not make. This is a culture that values human interaction and getting to know one another. There is no place for the brisk efficiency that rules in the Northeast. The pace here practically requires that everyone take a midday break to regroup.

While slowing down to Spanish time has occasionally baffled my New England sensibilities, it has definitely made me keenly aware of the value of patience. If I wanted the pace here to reflect what's familiar to me, I'd be antsy and frustrated all the time. By slowing down, I'm able to appreciate things I might have missed in my self-absorption and impatience. Instead of adhering to my own schedule, I'm expanding my world to fit in with what works here, including exchanging jokes with the cheesemonger and picking up occasional words of Catalan.

It doesn't escape me that the presence of patience in my life here matches this phase of my professional development. My coach and I planned for my approach this season to be restrained. After building up to last year's Olympic Games, we each felt that a more relaxed pace would work best for me. I'm investing in myself, personally and professionally, and as with most good investments, the returns are not immediate.

That said, as a competitive athlete, I have trouble holding back and not going all out to meet my own expectations at every race. Thankfully, my coach reminds me of the big picture and how this year fits into my overall plan for a long and satisfying career. Needless to say, he's a more patient person than I am!

Over the years, I've learned that patience is one of the greatest attributes an athlete can have. My impatience in the past led me to overtraining, sickness, mental burnout and injury. My newfound ability to take a step back and think ahead (not just about this one race or one moment) enables me to create layer upon layer of consistent hard work -- the kind that leads to improvement and long-term success.

I used to think I had to train at 100 percent effort all the time to be a world-class athlete, and I didn't understand why I'd eke out mediocre performances. I've learned that a more restrained, calculated approach to training leads to the best performances -- so far, it's working!

Operating on "Spanish time" and taking a more relaxed approach to this season has been valuable, but I must admit that my impatience occasionally rears her feisty head. I want the bike shop to open before 6 p.m. I want the grannies in line to be more decisive. I want to make the podium every time I race. But nothing good will come of rushing. Instead, I remind myself to take a deep breath and appreciate the calm that surrounds me. It's time to live in the present.

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