BRIAN BARRAZA RECAPS THE TEAM’S TRAINING CAMP IN PHOENIX, THE BREAKTHROUGHS HE’S MADE IN TRAINING, AND HOW HE’S TRANSLATED THAT PROGRESS INTO PRS:
Camp has simultaneously been a lifetime long and impossibly short. From the outside, a training camp in Phoenix may look like a vacation. Like we only came down from the mountains to hang out in a place of palm trees and sunshine. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong for thinking that—but it’s also an intense block of training where everything we do has a greater purpose. We may have a lot of fun spending time together as a team, but the underlying theme is that this is a business trip.
The biggest change for myself, other than sea level training for the first time in a year and a half, was that we were going to be doing double workouts for the first time ever. I tend to be more conservative in my training, so I was interested to see how this would play out for me. How would our bodies handle two workouts on our hard days, and how would we have to adjust in order to recover enough to nail the second sessions?
That adjustment came in the form of us doubling down on recovery. The emphasis went from “What can I do today to be ready for my next session in two days?” To “What can I do right now to be ready for my session in seven hours?” There was no wiggle room to not hydrate. No excuse to not stretch or fuel my body. Being in a new place with the express purpose of training helped me ensure that I’m doing everything right. The drawback to being so hyper-focused on the little things is that that level of focus stretched the days and made them feel impossibly long. Even though the time between workouts was filled with binge-watching Forged in Fire or Pokémon, there is no amount of mindless television that will postpone the inevitable.
But I didn’t come to Phoenix for things to be easy. None of us did. We came to work hard. And we’ve been able to feed off each other’s energy to push each other. It’s interesting to think about what exactly that means. So often it’s just a nearly imperceptible difference in the way that a person carries themselves that tells you they are confident in their ability to accomplish the set task. Or the lighthearted, relaxed environment they cultivate, joking in the car on the way to a workout. The influence they exert simply by going to bed a bit earlier, inadvertently reminding me that I should do the same. It’s the conversation we had literally every night trying to figure out who’s turn it was to cook dinner. All of these little moments around my teammates would force me to constantly recommit to doing everything to the best of my ability.
My teammates aren’t the only ones that have been pushing me to be better. I’ve been working with a sports psychologist to fine tune my mental approach for over a year now. Mostly, it’s a lot of reflection and writing in a journal after every workout trying to understand what helps me consistently perform to the best of my abilities. Prior to camp, I made a few notes in my training journal that I think have been impactful.
The first was “Show up ready to work hard without the thought of being smart or conservative. Make smart choices in the moment, but don’t hold yourself back before you even start.” I’ve been allowing myself to push harder in workouts and it’s been helping me feel a lot more confident. Since I’ve gotten out of my own way, I’ve come to learn that I am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.
The second point I wrote was “Never second guess.” Whenever I make a move in practice or racing, I approach it with the mentality that it was the only choice I could have made. In this way, I’m able to stop a lot of doubts from creeping in and shaking my confidence. Over the course of camp, I had thoughts in the back of my mind, questioning if I’d be able to handle the training or if I was pushing too hard. This was made even more salient by the fact that some of the guys around me were not surviving the training. Some had to scale back from the double workouts. Others had to go seek treatment from specialist physical therapists. We had all sorts of other stressors: early on was a day where we filmed with Whoop all day, another day we had to switch workout locations because we weren’t going to be allowed to get onto the track on account of soccer practice, several occasions where we piled people into the trunk of the car because we didn’t have enough room, the day we had to switch our AirBnB in the middle of camp. All this, coupled with the intense training could be mentally and emotionally draining at times. Navigating that is all a part of being a professional athlete.
Of course, this camp wasn’t without it’s high points: an overwhelming number of moments filled with gut busting laughter and joy, playing pool, creating cool art, reading books in the park across the street from our first AirBnB (there was one day that Aaron, Joey, Goose, and I just laid in the park and tossed a tennis ball in the air to each other. Very wholesome), getting to watch track and field again, and remembering at random moments that it’d be 4 degrees if we were still in Boulder.
One of the high points in training was a day where we were doubling back from a morning tempo session. The track workout was cutdown 1200s. I remember being absolutely shattered on the first few reps. My legs felt so heavy, as if each mile of the past few weeks was a stone I had to carry with me, and it felt like we were running 5 seconds faster per 1200 than we actually were. There was a moment before our last rep where Cory stopped us and said “Last rep, focus on making the next right decision. Sometimes that doesn’t mean that you latch on and get carried for a lap, sometimes it just means you get carried for a hundred meters. And that can be the difference between making a team and not making a team.”
That resonated with me so powerfully. I recommitted to myself and to my teammates. I envisioned what it’s going to be like striding for home at the Olympic Trials. I took over the lead in the last 400m of that rep and squeezed all the way through the line. Looking back on the past six weeks, that workout gave me the most confidence. I think it encapsulates the transitional period I’m in, pushing from the level I’ve been at to the level I know I can compete at. There was the struggle, a period that I let doubts tell me what I was capable of, the moment where I chose to recommit to the process, and the conviction that I’ve had since making the choice to believe in myself.
That conviction was on full display at the Prickly Pear invitational where Joey and I raced the 3000m. We got final confirmation that we’d be able to compete just a couple of days before the race. But once we were in, I went all in. In a stacked field, I put myself in the mix without a second thought about who was around me. The thought I used to cut through the frantic fog that always accompanies racing was: “Make the next right decision.” I stayed true to that and came away with a PR of 7:47.19. Anyone that saw me after the race knew there was nothing more I could have gotten out of myself. I was a shell of a human being. But knowing that I was able to compete with world class athletes, even in the midst of this training camp, even having done a double workout day on the Tuesday just four days before the race, shows how strong I’ve become. The focus for me now is to keep the ball rolling through my races at JDL and the Texas Qualifier, before building towards some possible steeplechase opportunities and eventually the US Olympic Trials.
If you watched the race routine video that we put out (shameless plug, go check it out), you hear me say that I approach races in a way that tries to make them as much of a non-event as possible. That means that I try to be as present as possible in the buildup and execution of a race, the same way that I am present on any other day. My philosophy behind this is that I want to do everything with my whole self. I don’t believe that any aspect of life exists in isolation, they are all informed by all other aspects of life. Racing is no exception and as such, I want to experience it fully. I recognize, however, that it’s one thing to stay true to this for a regular season race and quite another to try and hold onto it in the face of an event as big as the Olympic Trials.
One of my strengths as a competitor is the level-headed attitude I approach racing with. I never really have to fire myself up, though sometimes I do have to keep myself calm and in the moment. I do this by focusing on my breathing, reminding myself to stay in the present, and not allowing myself to get carried away thinking about the nearly infinite number of possible things that could happen at any given time. I find myself having to refocus a lot, particularly on race day. And the bigger the race, the more my mind tends to drift towards things that make me anxious. So the emphasis starts to echo the breakthrough I’ve had in training: recommitting to myself.
Going into Austin, I’m excited about another opportunity to compete. The last 5K I ran in LA was a well-executed race plan, but it left me feeling a bit like I squandered a chance to run something faster because I was too focused on the plan we made before the race. So I’ve definitely been itching to get another crack at the distance. I think I’m in the shape (physically and mentally) to run the US Olympic Trials Standard of 13:25, and on a good day I believe a sub-13:20 is within reach. That being said, my only expectation for the race is to be competitive and run for the win.
After the race, when I get back to Boulder, I’m going to remind myself of the things that I’ve learned at this training camp. Neither my fitness nor my confidence will fade when I return home. I’ll continue to keep the ball rolling, building on the momentum of the last 6 weeks, and push myself even further. As the season gets underway in earnest I’ll continue with this mentality, looking for the next right decision to make, and staying present through it all.