The Mental Game: It’s all in our head!

The Mental Game: It’s all in our head!

‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’

Mental toughness is the ability to perform to the upper range of your individual talent and skill, regardless of competitive circumstances. We all know that long distance events especially require at least as much mental strength as physical preparation!

Being mentally tough means that no matter how brutal the circumstances are, whether it be your 13th hour during the Ironman race in temperatures well over 35 C, or your 20th rep of a 400m interval session, you’re able to stand the pain and suffering and perform to the best of your skills. The reward for toughness…, a good time, a personal best, a good place, maybe place on the podium of your age group category or even a win, or the satisfaction of ‘just’ finishing. Mental toughness may be the defining factor between finishing at the front of the pack and not finishing at all.

It’s not just the ability to keep moving but to keep doing it in a way that’s engaged and competitive in the environment you’re in, whether that’s competing against the clock or other human beings. It’s easy when you feel good physically. It’s when that physicality leaves you, it becomes the real task. What you’re physically capable of in an endurance environment is more determined by your mental strength than your physical capabilities. Your body can go beyond what your physical perceptions of tiredness or fatigue are. Your brain will be telling you ‘You are tired, stop.’ The mental limitations kick in before the physical limitations, it’s a simple protecting factor.


Photo credit: AsiaTri.com

Visualization is a part of the training that is important. You don’t have to do anything physically, you can be meditating or walking, anything where you’re in your mind, playing it out in advance. You can imagine the start, the course, the spectators, the finish line or those points that your body is saying ‘stop’ or that you’re suffering. You can mentally training yourself to push through those barriers.

You should also be prepared to overcome mechanical issues during the bike leg, a flat tire, loosing you nutrition, getting hit during the swim…the list is long, but the better you are prepared mentally to those, the better you will handle the real situation, if it occurs on race day.

If you spend too much time being down about it, it can throw your race completely. You have to keep yourself in a place that’s not a dark, panic one. It also comes back to core faith, for me it always was my family and the people that are closest to me, I raced also for them and gained strength and positivity, knowing they will wait at the finish line or follow me online for several hours back home.

Another thing is, of course is the training; in many ways harder than the event itself in terms of the hours you’re putting in and no one is cheering for you. You have to get comfortable in your pain cave. It’s a place of prolonged suffering. You know you’re going to experience it, but you have to find a way to know that it’s not going to last forever.

Try to focus your mind on the positive of completing. When you’re in immense physical pain, try to dull the pain as much as possible or the opposite, try to welcome to pain!

It’s up to you, remember, everyone is different! But once the pain enters your head, you start to legitimize ways of pulling out. There’s a difference between ‘bonking’ and hitting the wall mentally. When you really bonk physically (nutritional issues for example) in most situations there is less you can do about it, you will loose a lot of time or even not be able to finish. But how long you hit a wall mentally, depends on your own thoughts, mantras, to what your brain is saying to you and how you handle these.

There can be a bad 20 or 30 minutes, but you can still have a pretty awesome race.

Don’t feed into your fears or worries or concerns. You have to feed into your positive thoughts, those are the ones that are going to get you through. This can definitely be practiced during your very intense training sessions.

I know, it’s easier said than done, but

…believe!

Edith Niederfriniger is a Trisutto Coach based in Italy.
Join Edith at her Tuscany Training Camps in April.

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Mums can fly too!

Mums can fly too!

In the last weeks and months there has been much interest in how many of Triathlons top female athletes have opted for motherhood at the peak of their careers.

2016 Olympians
From the ITU, post Olympics, we have Nicola Spirig, Helen Jenkins, Nicky Samuels, Gwen Jorgensen, Yuliya Yelistratova, Alexandra Razarenova and Melissa Stockwell.

At the end of the Olympic cycle, it is only natural to reassess priorities and I believe women have a much better reality detector than men.

The number of women taking this path may be helped in some small way by the successful 4 years that the 2012 Olympic champion has produced after having a son in 2013. By any measure Nicola is a better athlete at the end of the 2016 Olympic cycle than in 2012. While most won’t have the same tools at their disposal to deal with the obvious complications of their new reality, Nicola has shown a path that can be followed in the future. Having a family can be a positive on ones athletic career.

Long Course
Recently ‘The Honey Badger’ Mary Beth Ellis also retired from racing to follow her life long dream of a family. We are very happy for her, however we also recognise that Iron Ladies have a more perplexing decision. Most (not all) are already on their second triathlon career having started racing in ITU prior to embarking on Ironman which is a second phase to their sporting life.

Here are the list of recent publicised pregnancies: Mary Beth Ellis, Sarah Haskins, Liz Blatchford, Mirinda Carfare…

Ignoring the separate debate of what is the best age to do Ironman, instead let’s focus on how does an Ironman decide when family priority is more important than a performance level? Given the demands of training for an Ironman, these women have less of an opportunity to resume racing both because of age, but also because of time constraints the new arrival places.

I know first hand Nicola trained less and made compromises during her 3 years comeback after her first child. It has been pointed out to me that many runners have returned from having children. However runners don’t do as much training volume when compared to Ironman training – in fact at least 70% less. They don’t swim or ride prodigious hour sapping schedules, with twice weekly ‘long’ runs of 90 minutes or if preparing for a marathon 2 hours. Other runs between 45 minutes to one hour. Most females in Africa don’t run more than 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes for their big runs.

So we have to understand the time factor in preparing for an Ironman is a huge differential when comparing to other sports.

‘Champion Cycles’
Just as we have Olympic cycles, Ironman has its cycles to – if you observe the records. I call these ‘Champion Cycles’. Great champions come and go, but while they are on form they dominate. Paula Newby-Fraser, Natascha Badmann and of course the great Chrissie Wellington flew in and out of triathlon like the hurricane she is, leaving athletic devastation in her wake. The fireball running of Mirinda Carfrae blow torching the fields and now as the wave builds Daniela Ryf looks to be a tsunami in the making. Like Chrissie she might only be here for a short time, but while she is here, we are seeing an athlete with no weakness in any of the disciplines.

Thus, the Ironman athletes have their own cycle to deal with. Do I put off having a family while I look for that last 2% in performance? Or do I attempt a post child comeback with it’s challenges?

Conclusion
Women in high level sport have, or have placed upon them, much more societal responsibility.  At Trisutto we always discuss life and sporting goals with our professional female athletes. It is their right to decide what path they want to pursue when it comes to having a family. However, sometimes the quest of chasing athletic goals can blind an individual to what their life goals were, and part of coaching is to remind the athlete of these.

At Trisutto we celebrate all the pregnancies and the happiness they will bring. If debating the pluses and minuses of an athletes decision, we should remember that it is the most personal of life decisions and those on the outside looking in should respect what a difficult decision it can be.

At Trisutto we wish every one happiness and health and applaud their decisions.

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 2

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 2

In part-one of my blog I covered the importance of having the right motivation and training plan to achieve your Ironman goals. These are just the first steps to success, you need to practice what you will do on race day, this not only includes the obvious, such as nutrition and pacing, but also race mindset.

Mindful Training
To achieve quality IM training with the limited time most Age Groupers have, you must invest yourself in every session, 100%. If you have a 30min easy spin scheduled as a recovery, engage yourself in the process mentally, physically and emotionally, channeling all your energy to accomplishing the aim – promoting restoration. If you get on the bike and just go through the motions, checking your e-mail, Twitter and FB feeds, then you are putting in the famous “garbage miles”. Likewise, if you do the same during rest intervals in an intensity session, you just compromised that “quality” – see my point reference the term…Use every training session to practice staying on task, focusing and concentrating without compromise. If you let the mind wander the body will follow. Ironman is an agonizingly long day. Make each moment count and you will save time and energy.

Recovery
While it is essential to listen to your body for signs and cues expressing fatigue it is also important to anticipate the need for scheduled rest. Remember that recovery is training. Consider it as a discipline. The body becomes stronger when allowed to absorb the preceding training. With the higher volume demand of IM training, especially as one approaches the race itself, recovery and regeneration become ever more important. Ignore it at your peril.

Work Your TOP
Suffering is part of IM. There is no hiding from it. Therefore as part of your physical and mental preparation you need to work your pain tolerance, or Threshold of Pain (TOP). This may include a once in a while session that takes you well outside your comfort zone. So don’t wait until race day to discover it. Practice it in training to help you develop coping mechanisms.

That also means being able to endure in solitude. While you may be “racing with 3,000 of your closest friends” the fact remains that IM is a lonely, solo effort. Those in particular who need the companionship of others to get their homework done should incorporate long solo HTFU (harden the ….. up)  sessions into their regime. The mental resilience and tenacity gained will help through those dark moments that will inevitably taunt you to quit or feel sorry for yourself. Likewise it will enhance your judgment and decision making when under pressure and fatigued.

Pacing
This is probably the biggest downfall for some of the most talented athletes. Correct pacing in an IM is key. Rehearse in training what you will execute on race day. Then on race day, have the discipline to stick to your pacing.

Cramping is a common phenomenon in IM racing, and is always addressed under nutrition. I chose to tackle it here as it is more the result of improper pacing than dehydration and electrolyte deficiency. More often than not participants get caught up in the electrifying ambiance of race day and lose all self-discipline and sense of judgement, hammering out of the gates, pushing their muscles to work at an intensity and duration they are unaccustomed to. The muscles become exceedingly stressed subverting the neuromuscular pathways and causing spasmodic contractions. Bottom line – rehearse your pacing, groove it, execute it, stick with it.

Nutrition
Nutrition (including hydration) is the fourth discipline of IM. It can be quite controversial and perplexing given the regular bombardment of contradictory information from the “latest research”. For this blog’s purpose I will only refer to nutrition preparation for IM competition vice daily dietary recommendations.

Like swimming, biking and running, you need to train it. Train your gut to ingest the quantities you need, and do so often under race pace stress, not just during a comfortable rest interval. My best advice is to take in calories frequently, rather than gulping or chewing bigger portions periodically.

One thing to be attentive to is the difference between ingestion (the quantity taken in) and rate of absorption (what is actually be taken up by your digestive system). The two are not the same and what is recommended in mainstream literature may not be suitable to you. There is no magic formula, only your individual requirements. So adhere to these two simple principles – know what you need per hour based on what you can tolerate and absorb, and ingest those calories in forms that suit your palate, and satisfy you physically and psychologically. There is no right or wrong only what works for you.

Know ahead of time what will be supplied on race course and try it. If you are accustomed to Gatorade Endurance and will race in Europe where say High5 is used or Australia where Endura is used, then sample some before to ensure that your stomach can handle the formulation. If not, then you know you need to plan around that limitation. If yes, then train with it so you have the flexibility to safely supplement on course when needed.

In training practice your nutrition and hydration timing. Rehearse it. Drill it in. Make it habitual. But be flexible. Practice and assess your nutritional decisions in training (based on the road profile ahead and environmental conditions) to minimize hesitation on race day.

If you plan to race with caffeine, train with it as well. Not every session, but periodically when doing race specific (long) sessions. Caffeine can also lead to cramping indirectly. Caffeine tempers our sense of pain and stimulates us to perform. Often caffeine is only used in races, and in higher quantities than accustomed to, to get that extra turbo charge. Add this to an already over-excited environment and the risk of pushing one’s muscles beyond what they are able to handle goes up significantly.

Fuel for performance. We have control over our nutrition (and pacing). Therefore there should be no (controllable reason) that bonking occurs, in training or racing. Plan your nutrition to optimize each training session especially on multi-session days. Avoid looking at each session in isolation. Always assess what came before, the demands and aim of the actual session and, what is to come after and when. This way you remain proactive in fueling and replenishing appropriately. This habit will preserve you on IM day because when you start reacting to nutritional needs you are already behind the 8-ball.

There is a lot involved preparing for an IM. But before you focus and obsess on the sexy marginal gains promised by the latest gadget, widget or elixir, follow these fundamental principles as the underlying foundation to your Ironman training and ultimately your race day success.

Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.

 

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 1

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 1

Every year a plethora of articles are published in various forums on how to best prepare for an Ironman. This two-part blog is not about the quickest way to your fastest Ironman, or the secret base workouts of our greatest champions. It is about the fundamentals that you should consider and address to set you up for success.

Motivation
It all starts here. This is the anchor of your resolve, the guiding beacon on your journey and the fuel that keeps the drive alive when the going gets tough, in training or on race day. You need to be both strong physically and tenacious mentally to put yourself through the Ironman ordeal, whether that’s an Age Group finisher or a podium/Kona-qualifier contender. Your reason needs to come from within, deep. It must be intrinsically generated not extrinsically fostered. Your purpose matters. Find it. Lock onto it.

The 4 D’s
To support and sustain your motivation you need:

  • Discipline – Specifically, self-discipline. This attribute enables you to stay the course, to do the homework when the body and mind are yearning for the easy way out, and to maintain control and order in adverse conditions.
  • Dedication – Which is your unrelenting commitment to achieve your goal, whatever and how ever long it takes. It is only your devotion that will enable you to reach your objective. Make lifestyle choices rather than sacrifices. Choose to change, to abstain, to do, to avoid, to act, to support your project (positive), rather than looking at it from the perspective of giving up something (negative). This will make the experience a lot more rewarding in the end.
  • Determination – That is the expression of your conviction that you can succeed, that you will succeed. It represents the mindset that never gives up.
  • Detail – In your plan. See your ironman as a project with multiple supporting tasks, not just swim, bike, run training. Assess and prioritize enablers (i.e. scheduling, family, nutrition, massage etc.) that will optimize your preparation. And when it comes to training, leave no stone unturned. Prepare and rehearse for the specific race course demands as best you can.

Planning
I am always taken aback when I hear people tell me they “hope” to achieve this at IM, or “hope” that this will happen. Hope is not a viable course of action. Only one thing will lead you to success – hard work. And I’m afraid there is no App for that.

To make good on this hard work you need a plan to guide you. Know this – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Period. So, on your own, or with your coach, invest the time to chart a course to your objective. It need not be elaborate or complex. A penciled sketch will do. Just have something that you can refer to.

Always plan backwards and execute forwards. Work back from your IM to where you are now on the calendar to highlight the time you have. Then determine what needs to be done and how and where it will fit. This said, accept that no plan survives first contact so you must be flexible and ready to change as life intervenes (i.e. illness, work, family etc.). As long as you have a plan you know where you are headed and you are in better position to adjust and adapt should things go sideways.

Periodization
This is simply the methodical and thoughtful manipulation of volume/intensity/frequency of training in a manner best suited to (you) the athlete to achieve optimal performance on race day. Without tagging periodization with a name, or selecting a particular model off the shelf, develop a plan around your circumstances, rather than trying to squeeze yourself into a set construct. What is important is that you consider and respect the fundamental principles of progressive overload, specificity, frequency and recovery. Underlying these are of course volume and intensity.

Volume and Intensity
First off I will acknowledge my unorthodox position with respect to “quality” as it refers to intensity. It has become the most misleading term the world over. Sorry but it has. Intensity does not equal quality! Every workout, every session, short or long, high or low intensity is quality if it is appropriately placed in an athlete’s training plan and makes sense in their context. Volume, especially in the context of IM, has a quality of its own. Quality is what you do and how you do it within the volume. Intensity is the effort level applied to your training.

The fundamental problem with interchanging quality for intensity is that it infers volume is of lesser importance, and worse seduces people into believing that intensity is a (shortcut) substitute for volume. It is not. When one assesses the durability requirement for IM, physical and mental, duration has an important role to play.

While IM is an endurance event it is still a contest of speed (Finish Time=Distance/Speed). If it were an endurance contest alone then everyone crossing the finish line by cut-off time should stand on the first place podium. Sustainable race pace is key to success. Therefore, volume must be used to develop the endurance and stamina to sustain your race pace intensity over the three distances, while race pace can be developed from the get go, gradually extending the duration that it can be maintained. This means first working the race pace in short duration’s with lots of rest, then increasing the total time spent at race pace followed by cutting the recovery time to increase sustainability under fatigue.

 

Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.

 

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Avoiding the Grey Zone

Avoiding the Grey Zone

As athletes in the Northern Hemisphere move into spring and better weather, some are in a rush to add more intensity and volume to their training, as they prepare for their race season. This is a quick way to increase risk of injury, sickness, and fatigue affecting consistent training. Especially when goal races are many months away, and the season may now stretch all the way to October for some, or longer with options of overseas races.

Triathlon is a sport of strength endurance, which benefits from consistent training, day after day, week after week. Of course, the goal is to swim faster, bike stronger, and run faster, but many athletes try to rush this process. Steady and measured preparation is required for optimal performance. During the early phases of training many athletes ask “this isn’t enough – when is the real training going to start?”, sometimes adding 30 minutes to 1 hour longer than the prescribed training, or adding extra intervals to workouts.

While interval training is a powerful tool if used correctly, personally I don’t believe interval training or training fast is necessarily how athletes get injured. I believe athletes get injured and sick from doing too much training at medium intensity, in the grey zone, especially with run training. Going harder than they should on their endurance workouts.

Athletes also increase their risk of injury and sickness when trying to maintain a year-round training diet of 4+km swims, 100+km bikes, and 25+km runs, especially when these workouts are at race or close to race pace. My advice to these athletes is to ‘slow down to speed up’, or ‘Hurry Slowly’. These athletes may also be worried about making sure they can compete at a certain speed or pace, that their endurance workouts negatively impact the remainder of their training week. When you’re doing an endurance swim, bike, or run, you really shouldn’t feel as though you need to make too much of an effort. Power, HR, or Pace should be generally less than 70% of threshold pace, or in layman terms at a pace you can easily maintain a conversation.

If you are in awe of how fast the best Marathon runners can run, what’s equally amazing is how slow they run their slow runs. These athletes will generally complete their long or easy runs at a pace some 2 minutes per km (3 minutes per mile) slower than their race pace. Athletes running 42km in a race at ~3:10 per km (5:06 min/mile), are running their slow runs at ~5min/km (8:10 min/mile). What if you try to run your easy runs 2 minutes per km slower than your race pace? Many of us are close to walking, right? I’m not necessarily advising you to walk, but to consider the effort level difference for those Marathoners between their training and race paces. That’s truly a pace that they can run “all-day” and not exert much effort.

I also encourage you to try doing some workouts without electronics, or ‘by feel’. No GPS, no powermeter. Training this way lets you start to understand your body and not always rely on the gadgets that don’t know how you’re feeling on a certain day. If you need a gadget to hold you back from going too hard on certain workouts (e.g. long runs!), then you need more practice in listening to your body. You don’t do it often enough or understand what it means to train in a certain area, namely endurance. If you must record the numbers from your workout, tape over your device or put it in your pocket so you can still have the data after the workout, but don’t use it during every workout.

Should you miss a workout or day of training, remember we live in the real world with jobs, careers, study, family and friends. Don’t strive to compensate for days missed in training by trying to ‘catch up’ workouts, or adding more time to others. Simply move on, and back onto your training schedule. One day missed can save a week or month missed due to injury or sickness.

If Spring is on its way in your region, enjoy the nicer weather and planned bigger workouts, but please ‘hurry slowly’.  Avoiding the grey zone is the quickest way to improve your triathlon performance.

Carson Christen is a Sports Scientist and Trisutto Coach based in Germany
Join Carson at the Mallorca Training Camp, on April 15.

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

What is ‘Winning’?

What is ‘Winning’?

As 2017 rolls on, I’ve already had the pleasure of working with a variety of age group athletes attending Trisutto training camps. I find it truly a blessing to be able to work with diverse groups of interesting athletes from varying backgrounds, all with a wide variety of reasons for attending our camps. Some are new to the sport, while some are looking for the magic or secret ingredient in their training to achieve their race goals.

At Trisutto camps there is an emphasis on thinking, observing and training for the individual athlete. A period of learning about what techniques best suit each individual. What becomes apparent in lectures during camp is that many ‘just want to train!’. I don’t shy away from emphasising the key to improved performance, which is the need to train for your own goals, within your own boundaries. Not to be driven by the group mentality.

Why? Because as many of you will have experienced, a phenomenon among age group camps is that a competitiveness between campers is often observed, each measuring themselves against other individuals, rather than assessing their own circumstances and measuring against those.

At camps when our pros have been present, it has been a wonderful learning experience for age group athletes and visiting coaches alike to observe maybe 7 athletes training, with 5 different workouts happening all at the same time – and ongoing throughout the week. We do not have our professional athletes in head to head showdowns during each session. Those are saved for race day. In recent Total Body Force (TBF) swimming blogs, we also emphasised that there is no one size fits all swimming technique for every individual. The same also applies for training the bike and the run parts of our triathlon.

I am frequently asked what is our secret? If we have one, then it is this:

  • We treat triathlon as triathlon. It is not 3 sports, it is not swim, not bike, not run;  but is the one sport of triathlon and is therefore trained as one sport.
  • We produce training for the individual athlete, not for the group.


Trisutto campers training to the beat of their own drum in Gran Canaria.

At a recent camp, I was talking with a dedicated age group athlete, who asked if I knew of a particular phenomenal age group racer, and the comment, ‘I don’t know how any of us can compete with his numbers’.

I asked, ‘if he is so good, why doesn’t he race against the pros?’
The reply, ‘He is too old…’

Well, I can think of maybe 5 boxers who fought for world titles in boxing at over 45 years of age. There are no age group competitions there.
I asked, ‘Does he work full time, or part time? Is he retired with financial security? Does he have family? Or can he train like a pro without any other responsibilities?

Sometimes being ‘competitive’ in triathlon isn’t an even playing field. By very nature, some are at a huge disadvantage. But only if being on the podium is one’s interpretation of winning. In age group sport it is my belief that being successful has nothing to do with being on the podium. Winning is something we can all achieve. I believe winning is being able to take our own personal circumstance, and working towards making it better than it was previously.

  • If triathlon helps you work towards a healthy weight goal, then that is winning, and winning big!
  • If triathlon helps alleviate stress in your life that is affecting you, your family and loved ones, that is winning, and winning big!
  • If triathlon helps to set an example to your kids, who see you persevering and empowers them to do likewise, that is winning, and winning big!
  • Improving one’s life through triathlon, and taking pride in the discipline required is winning, and winning big!

I’ll leave you with a parable.


A Herb and Percy duel!

Herb Elliot, one of the greatest 1500m runners of all time, was coached by arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time and mavericks of his era, Percy Cerutty. During an argument, Percy, who was nearly 80 years old, challenged Herb to a race and whoever wins the race is declared the winner of the argument!

So off they went. The great champion running along a few yards in front of his mentor, who was busting a gut, eyes bulging, spit coming from every hole as he pressed as hard as he could. It had an audience of fellow runners who chuckled as the old man hammered himself. They crossed the line and Percy fell to the ground completely spent, chest heaving, while Herb was pronounced the winner to all his mates. But rising off all fours, the coach boomed as he stood up like a colossus.

‘You won nothing, I am the winner! I gave everything, you did not. You disgraced yourself!’

Success people is in the eye of the individual, it always has been and always will be!