Navigating The Valley of Despair

The view of larch trees and alpine lakes at Angels Staircase, a Methow Valley mountain bike ride that climbs above 7000ft.   

The view of larch trees and alpine lakes at Angels Staircase, a Methow Valley mountain bike ride that climbs above 7000ft.   

Coming from a family of educators, it’s not uncommon for family visits to include charged conversations about teaching and learning.  Recently, the topic was helping students (and athletes) navigate The Valley of Despair.  We’ve all been in The Valley at one point or another— you get fired up about a new training plan, you launch into it full steam, and you’re rolling—until…

Eventually we hit a roadblock—some unforeseen challenge that takes the wind out of our sails— and we lose momentum.  This defining moment, The Valley of Despair, is the make or break moment, the point in time when we have to decide whether we’re really willing to put the work in, to problem solve, to negotiate the rough seas in order to get to the rewards on the other side.    

The best teachers and coaches know The Valley of Despair is coming eventually, and we’re ready for it, we’re ready to implement strategies to help our athletes through the roadblocks, step-by-step.  Seasoned endurance athletes also know this is all part of the training process.  They know that there are ups and there are downs.  What matters most is how we respond to the downs, because they’re not going away! 

For brand newer rowers or cyclists, the learning curve is steep and the change happens fast; there’s a lot to learn in these technical sports.  The Valley of Despair typically comes when that learning curve begins to level out a bit, the point at which the gains come more slowly.  Though it’s a normal part of the process, the slowed pace can feel discouraging. 

Seasoned masters athletes have likely clawed their way out of The Valley of Despair many times over the years—whether brought on by injury or illness, a big push at work, or a commitment to family—many (good) things can push us into The Valley.


We’ve all been to the bottom of The Valley, and we all have to climb back out if we want to keep getting better.  So how do we do that?  First, take it one day at a time.  Know that falling into The Valley is a normal part of any change process or new training plan, so don’t let it get you down.  Next, have specific tools and strategies to help with the climb back out.  And most importantly, believe in the process, because it’s always worth the climb!