Mental Conditioning

If you look deeper at my recent articles, you’ll see they are about where psychology meets performance. Put simply, some people can handle pacing/nutrition and others can’t. Remember, just because you “can’t” doesn’t mean you “won’t” — I wrote the articles to explain tactics for personal improvement.

I was reading Inside Triathlon and noted an article by Matt Fitzgerald about the nature of fatigue. The premise of Matt’s piece is that our minds quit before our bodies. I agree with Matt. Where I think many of us go “wrong” is our interpretation of what it takes to appropriately train our minds. Most people train capacity to absorb pain and “be hard” — in fact, performance is about being fluid, rather than being hard.

Are you training the mental skills required to perform… or spending mental mojo on pain tolerance… or simply adding stress/fatigue to your life?

Let me share a couple of quotes:

  • “You need to get used to operating at a higher level.” – Mark Allen
  • “It’s not pain, it is managed discomfort.” – Dave Scott
  • “When I feel like I want to quit — I know that that I’m at the right effort.” – John Hellemans
  • “Feelings are a choice.” – Scott Molina

Each of the champion athletes above were talking to me about a different aspect of racing (and different distances). I’m passing the quotes along because they’ve been helpful to reframe sensations that I experience when training and racing.

Each of us will cope (and interpret) race-like sensations differently. A key part of the specific preparation that you should do for a race is preparing your mind for exactly how you’re going to feel throughout your goal event. We also need to realize that we likely have no clue on what an optimal race feels like, at least until we’ve been successful several times. Part of what we do as coaches is lay out a plan that will prepare an athlete’s mind for what Game Day is going to feel like. Give thought to the sensations that you’ll need to cope with on race day. Races feel very, very different based on duration, terrain, fitness and climate. Is your program preparing you for the psychological environment you are going to face on race day? Have you even considered the environment that you will face? Do you understand how you respond in training when faced with similar conditions? Have you selected events that fit your personal profile?

People ask me why I never focused on the Hawaii Ironman. The reason was that I knew myself better than they knew me!

  • Non-wetsuit choppy swim: Now that I’m over 40 and racing AG, I love that sort of swim! However, it worked against me when I was an elite.
  • Fast, fast start: I hate fast starts (Dave and Mark worked on that with me a lot) — one of the nice things about being AG is having the fitness to sustain it when my pals in the 40-44 go berko! Some times you need to cope with sub-optimal tactics to have an optimal result.
  • Relative performance: Our motivation (and performance) is going to be best one level below the highest level of competition we can achieve. In other words, if it’s a stretch to race “pro” then you’ll likely do best as a fast AGer. Coming back to Matt’s point about our mind’s quitting — we’re going to stay in the game much longer when our motivation is highest. Case in point: most of us will have our absolute best race (relative to fitness) when we qualify for Kona (or are in the hunt to win an event outright). For what it’s worth, this is also why I don’t do a lot of “important races” — when something matters to me I take myself “way out” in both training and racing.

Everything that Hawaii wasn’t, Canada was. I beat some world class athletes on that course because I understood my personal psychology.

So my piece two weeks ago was a head fake — I wanted to share those workouts so that you might try a few and see what you can do. The entire spectrum of athletic performance (VO2max down to long duration Aerobic Threshold) is covered in those main sets — consider what you thought didn’t matter. Speaking from experience, there is useful knowledge in noting what I don’t think I need to do!
As you gather data, you’ll have physical information, but if you listen inside your head, then you will also learn about your current psychology.

Finally, your ability to tick the box with my full list of pacing sessions will give you an insight into your true motivation.

Many talk, few do.


Categories: Mind

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