“Before Breakthrough Training, Chop Wood, Carry Water. After Breakthrough Training, Chop Wood, Carry Water”
I borrowed today’s title from the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
What is breakthrough training? For me, it is about viewing it the right way: it is a continual quest with no end date and no real peak. When the goal is to qualify, it is not fair to the coach or the athlete to pick a specific race or year.
Breakthrough training is often interpreted as a sort of magic bullet. I still hope for the day when I'll wake up to find myself swimming consecutive 1:15 100s and 6-minute mile pace doesn’t take any real effort. It hasn't happened yet though.
What is more important are the breakthroughs I’ve had in my head, and those are what I’d like to share. Those moments -- like the eureka moment we all get when we solve a math problem -- really do feel as if walls have been removed in our minds, and where things that seemed so separate and incompatible suddenly become dualities, two sides of the same coin.
After a failed attempt at a first draft of this article, I went back to the drawing board. In other words, I logged on to Google. When I entered the word “complacency” I got a page full of websites listing official definitions. I read through a number of them and even ventured to Urban Dictionary to see if someone had a clever offbeat definition (they did not; though it was in there). The online dictionaries all had nearly the same definitions and two words seemed to be the most common: “self-satisfaction” and “unaware(ness)” What this tells me is that complacency is essentially always an afterthought. It is not something felt in the present, but something that a person likely identified in themselves when trying to find out what went wrong.
So what exactly is it?
I’ve been reading quite a bit recently on the subject of creativity, as it seems to be vogue in the literature of business, education and even neuroscience. It’s a subject that has interested me for some time and our research group at Stanford was looking at measures of enhanced creativity in patients with bipolar (manic-depressive) disease 15 years ago.
There is no question that breakthrough solutions (that is to say bursts of creativity) develop from at least two separate strategies.
In the six years since I started ironman I cannot think of a single breakthrough training day. There have been many memorable sessions -- some for the scenery, others for the company, some where I went further than I had before and others where I worked harder -- but no individual session stands out for leading to a breakthrough in my performance. I'm not starting another article on consistency -- it is important -- but just being consistent wasn't enough.
So when I look at six years of (mostly) consistent training, what made the difference? What took me from being another focused age-grouper to being a faster, focused age-grouper?
I am pretty sure that most of us have had a disappointing race or athletic performance in our career. If you have not, consider yourself lucky!
A lot of us tend to throw our toys out of the crib and blame it on the conditions or someone else. I think there are several things we need to do when we have a disappointment in a race. First thing is give yourself at least 24-48 hours before you make any rash decisions
Your second step should be to take a step back and look at what happened!
I had a conversation with a training partner last year about mental toughness during which my friend suggested that we can always become tougher, and should seek to do so. I was reluctant to agree with that outlook, but it sure got me thinking. Like any athlete, I have experienced both sides of the mental barriers to performance; situations in which I gave 100% of what my body was capable of, and others in which I know in my heart that I did not. Sometimes I have experienced both of these states in the same race! So what was the difference?
Every year, we give our daughter and our nephews an adventure for Christmas. One year, we decided that the adventure would be white river rafting in the Gauley River. We had a hint of things to come when the guide asked to discuss the day’s adventure privately with us.
He pointed out that we had a great day ahead -- actually, a world class day. The river was almost at its highest level due to recent storms. A few more feet, and the river would be closed. He informed us that almost the whole ride would be Class V rapids which increased the level of danger.
After some debate (my partner is the cautious one operating out of the Worst Case Scenario Guidebook), we elected to take the trip.
I recently returned from Hawaii and wanted to share tips in case you find yourself cycling or training for triathlon on the island of Kauai. The island is a special place with a different vibe than you’ll find on the more crowded islands.
In a previous article, I wrote about the general issue of serum cholesterol and lipid levels and I’ve always encouraged athletes to “know their numbers.” I'd like to extend that conversation and talk about the most common scenario I hear about: the athlete who has a high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level and who is encouraged to take a statin medication for treatment.
You know those sessions that cause you to just cringe in fear if anyone even mentions them? We all have them. The coach says, "Okay, today we are going to do a solo bike TT for one hour, best possible pace," or "1500m TT in the pool," and you get that shudder.
As far as triathlon coaches go, I think I have a fairly homogenous group of athletes that I tend to work with. They are typically guys who have been plugging away with relatively high levels of annual volume for a number of years and have had either inconsistent results or results not in line with they work put in.
Since my sample of athletes are fairly uniform in athletic history, the key to attaining a breakthrough performance for these athletes more often than not comes down to a few slight tweaks to the way they have been doing things.
Mental toughness comes in many forms. Often, mental toughness is defined as the ability to suffer more than the competition during a race.
Years of training, racing and coaching have expanded my perspective of mental toughness. It definitely pays to be mentally tough when you’re 20 miles into the ironman marathon and you feel like you can’t possibly take another step. But mental toughness is needed long before the 20-mile mark, or even the starting line. It is mental toughness that helps to build real, race day fitness.
What subject could be more germane to a group of endurance athletes than mental toughness? After all, given the vast evidence supporting the central governor theory of fatigue, it follows that increasing mental toughness will boost performance. I propose further that we are all tough on crime, we dole out tough love and even our cleaning products are tough on stains, so c’mon: let’s all get tough.
Similar to many aspects of common sense, it’s hard to really define what we mean by mental toughness. This is pretty important, since most of us hope to enhance our mental toughness and it’s hard to enhance what you cannot describe.
When trying to become a successful athlete it’s not hard to drive yourself into submission thinking you need to be physically tough every minute of every day. The reality is we need to learn when to be physically tough, when to be mentally tough, and at times, when to be neither. Then again, being neither often takes a bit of mental fortitude. As a result, not being tough can be the toughest thing for a lot of us. The key to athletic success is not only deciding how to be tough, but what tough really is and in what scenario. There are a variety of ways to make yourself strong, durable, and in the process a better athlete
A few of you may know that I began my college studies with a view to a career in sport psychology. After a few years of study it became clear to me that my mechanistic mindset was far better suited to exercise physiology and so I left matters of the mind behind. Or so I thought…
In case you hadn’t noticed, April is “Mental Toughness” month on Endurance Corner. When I learned about the theme, I thought, “This is me; this will be good.” After all, I think of myself as pretty tough.
I’ve come from the “slow class” at a below average high school which was nearly closed down the year I graduated to getting an honours degree in a tough subject. I’ve beaten alcoholism and stayed away even when I’ve been homeless. I’ve been attacked with knives on several occasions. I’ve worked 16-hour overnight shifts with only a 20-minute break picking orders in warehouses. I’ve spent winters without hot water and days without food. I’ve run through a heart attack in a sprint triathlon (winning my age group). And I’ve sat through a Nelly Furtado gig for a girl.
I’d like to think all of that was for something -- even the pop concert was a learning experience -- but is this sort of toughness required for Kona?
In my business, I spend most of my time with college students. Many of them are young, unproven and searching for their paths. On occasion someone special shows up. Despite his or her youth, the individual radiates strength and purpose. That person ends up being a cornerstone of our team.
As I get to know these individuals, I find they usually have a story with a crucible moment. Something happened to someone they love dearly or to themselves that involved making a tremendously hard choice. These are the individuals that go on to great success on their chosen path.
During my time as an athlete I have experienced a few injuries. My personal experience reminds me that pain tolerance cannot be trusted when a physician or coach is evaluating an injured athlete’s ability to safely train.
As a coach and chiropractor who gives advice professionally to super motivated athletes I always recommend training around an injury. I get very uncomfortable (some might say emotional) when an athlete tries to train through an injury.
I am very willing to explore a healthy, motivated athlete’s limits. Likewise, I am willing to explore his or her limits as we safely train around injury. What follows is an ongoing case study.
Years ago on a visit to Paris, desperate for some exercise, I accompanied my mother to her Parisian health club. The club was set in an old stone building, and a well-coiffed instructor led me into an exercise studio with exposed brick walls and rich wooden floors. Accustomed to American fitness classes that are sprinkled liberally with chirps of “good job” and “nice work,” I was taken aback when the French instructor’s first comment to the group was “Vous etes nules!” -- literally informing us that we were all zeros. The feedback just got more critical from there.
When people talk about being tough, they tend to think about gritting their teeth, sucking it up, pushing through the pain and displaying to themselves and those looking on that they go hard all the time. They do not rest or take it easy; surely this is the result of a strong mind that allows them to push through the pain.
From my viewpoint, this couldn’t be further from the truth, nor is it what makes someone mentally tough.
This month's workout is a session geared towards those short course speedsters, people who struggle with that first 30 minutes from swim to ride or races that require you to hop right onto your bike and be geared to race it from the start.
It looked miserable outside, overcast and grey, large spots of rain splashed against the window; indoors was warm and comfortable, watching TV seemed far more appealing than going for a run. But I had committed to a schedule I couldn't break -- the challenge of running for 30 consecutive days. So I dug out a long sleeve top and threw on a vest for warmth before forcing myself to step out into the rain and close the front door behind me. Thirty damp minutes later I was back, glad I hadn't stayed on the couch. The conditions weren't perfect, but neither were they that bad -- I'd actually enjoyed my run.
Following on from my last piece on the Leadville Mountain Bike race, I want to dig deeper into how I’m preparing for the event.
Throughout my athletic career, there have been defining moments that will be forever marked in my mind. I had one of those occurrences recently near the end of my first sub-3-hour marathon.
When I began my eight week preparation for the race, I had no idea what I was capable of doing from a time perspective but as the training unfolded, it appeared as if sub-3 might be possible.
As I stood on the starting line, waiting for the gun to go off, I went over my plan: "I will run by heart rate and I will let the conditions and the terrain dictate my pace."
As you’ll read on my personal blog, I’m navigating a life shift these days. The realities of having a house filled with small children have led me towards reducing my training load. That said, the desire to train and perform remains, so I was stoked when the opportunity to participate in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race appeared.
With the spring season starting up, many athletes will begin to wonder, “How much base training is enough?” or “When is the right time to start some faster workouts?” In terms of the Annual Training Plan, athletes may wonder if they should continue the Base phase or enter the Build phase of training.
Almost five years ago, I wrote a piece for Gordo on taking a break from ironman. In that article, I wondered if I would ever do an ironman again.
Well, I’m signed up for IMC this year and appear to be stringing together some consistent training. In full disclosure, I have signed up for and cancelled out of two other ironman races in the last five years, but this one seems to be sticking.
In my trip back to ironman fitness, I’m attempting to follow the advice I laid out five years ago: to train as much as I can consistently train.
If you are already doing everything you can on the physical side to prepare for racing and are looking for the next step to reach your goals, consider looking at your mental game plan. Here is a simple step by step strategy to improving your mental skills that you can practice in training and put in place come race day.
Last month a group of investigators from the Harvard School of Public Health, headed by An Pan, PhD, published a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, entitled “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality”.
The report received a great deal of media attention. But how much of what was reported in the news should concern you?