Mental Training

I have a sense that I spent a vast majority of the last year mentally training for Ironman and not so much physically training for Ironman. When I go back and look at the training log there are very very few sessions in there that were physically challenging to complete. When I look at how I trained 4 years ago when I was just getting into the sport, I was physically challenging myself a lot more than I did this season. Recently I’ve been trying to do so much all the time that the thing that’s limiting me from training better is basically fatigue management. Mental gymnastics to motivate myself into adding more aerobic training load to the table. I never wanted to go so hard one day that I was potentially sacrificing tomorrow’s training. That’s supposed to be the golden rule… but I spent 7 months on the edge of getting too tired. That was almost the only mode of training and it became a total mental game. If I recount what was physically challenging I can list it all for 2010, I can’t do that for last year, it would mean copying and pasting 5 out of 10 workouts each week most months.

Workouts where I got to a limit of what I could do during the 2010 season:

  1. One part of one ride at the spring training camp on the bike I totally challenged what I could ask myself to do. The entire rest of the camp I was too concerned with not getting too tired.
  2. My first 30km run of the year was a challenge, it was a big step up from what I was doing, muscles could barely handle it past 26kms.
  3. Sunday morning bike race way back April was a challenge, I got to race a category above what I normally am allowed into and raced HARD. It would have qualified for the list even if I hadn’t tacked on another 100kms to the back end of it to make an iron-ride out of the day as well.
  4. The Calgary Police Half marathon was a challenge, and I succeeded in going sub 90 minutes for the first time ever.
    • May had no challenges, not surprisingly I was so stressed out from organizing that race that I had no ability to challenge myself in training, only to do it.
    • 40 runs in 40 days was tough but it didn’t challenge the physical limits in any workouts, just mental ones.
  5. Highwood pass double traverse: The only time I think my endurance was challenged – completing the 300km ride.
  6. Chinook Half was only challenging on the run, I couldn’t mentally cope on the bike with frustration and lack of experience riding my TT rig. Fortunately I then I got off and lit up a great run.
    • The Ditch Bonk – challenge? er… no… Stupidity?
  7. Great White North. Challenging swim, bike and run. I had spent so much time on the edge of getting too tired that this one really knocked me down for the count. As you probably recall I got smoked.
  8. Challenging bike ride 185km two man TT “race” just prior to my mini epic camp.
  9. 3×10km poker pacing run during epic camp. No challenging riding or swimming happened all week despite netting 47 hours. Just mentally tough to get through.
  10. The 34km run 3 weeks prior to race day was a challenge, largely brought on by the heat.
  11. Ironman Canada. Challenged the pain threshold for miles 16 through 26. I’m not sure if I really should be counting this as the race, or just the run. If I use the same criteria as my other rides through the summer this ride wouldn’t actually have made the cut which as a challenging ride. I’m not sure what to think about that. It means there’s still something to accomplish out there.

In retrospect I netted 10 times physically challenging myself in the course of 6 months prior to race day and spent the rest of it on the balancing edge of getting too tired by doing too much. My gut feeling is that this ratio is not correct. Considering that 5 of those were brought on by racing and only 5 were in training on average I was challenging myself in training less than once a month?

I had a good chat with my coach today and he wasn’t overly surprised by this tally. Not nearly as surprised as I was. I mentioned the fact that I had read that Mirinda Carfrae was doing two really focused and challenging bike workouts per week all year and it looks to have paid off at the world championships. His comment was that’s all well and fine but we can’t just look at how the person trained during their last year before the race. We have to look at their whole career. I myself have been saying that Ironman training takes more than a year so I should agree. Sometimes it’s hard to agree with myself though! I did a good job of finding a coach whose philosophy I agree with, so when I now wonder and have all sorts of questions it feels kind of like I’m the one who’s saying to myself “I told you so”.

Often when I read about how people who are better than me train, they have designed a training schedule where there are key sessions to show up for… and you physically challenge yourself each time you go do them. Step 1: Get mentally charged up for the workout. Step 2. Go nuts! I did mentally get charged up for a few workouts this summer… and they all got listed here. I had a schedule and mindset where everything was just a part of the whole and you had to dole out your ability to train carefully so you could do it all. I did get faster on the run since February but I’m not totally convinced that I got a whole lot on the bike or the swim.. I slapped together 3 x 20 hours weeks in a row in February in the middle of winter when I had less than 8 hours a day of sunlight to deal with and the cards were stacked against me. Later on in the summer I was equally fatigued from putting together a string of 20-22 hour weeks. I think that means I was a bit too close to the edge of being too tired for too long. Getting to that edge is important, it makes you strong for Ironman but I’m not convinced I need to go there and sit there for months at a time. Going to visit is nice, but a few weeks visit a few times a season is probably enough.

I made a chart that shows my moving average equivalent hours of work representative of RPE and it starts out when Steven started coaching me at 1.4. We did a 30/30/30 challenge and by the end of it I was down to 1.3. I stayed right around 1.3 all the way until we neared the end of the 40/40/40 at which point it falls off to 1.25 and it stayed there through until late July. During August and my taper it rose up to 1.35 by race day. In comparison to the season prior, I spent the winter “low” at 1.35 and it increased and increased my intensity along with with my training load. Then I overdid it a bit towards the end with the intensity and volume getting a bit out of control at 1.55 and I wound up flat for my season ending race. Along the way though, I had some fantastic performances and I got really really fit. I might have had a higher functional threshold power last year than I did this year. I absolutely would not have been surprised if I had power data to back this guess up. It was not a slouch on the bike this year but I might not be faster. I saw my average speeds from our Icefields Double Traverse last July and I don’t think I could have done any better this year.

Photo from gallery: Triathlon - 2010

What does this trend tell me? I think it’s saying I beat myself down too hard in late May and June. My average training intensity was falling at a point in the season where the “big base” should have already been built. I would think that with 12 weeks to go to Ironman that you should be thinking about picking up the specificity which would mean trading in some of the long long long slow slow slow, for Ironman pace and perhaps paring back a bit of the overall load to do so. I hampered the ability to design things that way by racing a few times during this part of the year. I would have ideally made the turn towards gradually rising intensity at the beginning of June rather than the middle of July. Making that shift earlier probably would have meant I would have have trained with a bit more intensity, stressed the muscles a bit more and been a bit stronger. It would have meant I had a bit more power at IM effort. Maybe it would have meant I could have run faster from mile 16 through to the finish.

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