Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pain is ok.

This morning I was fortunate to be able to spend time at the DMV.

The DMV is the place of wonder.....the place it or not...we get to spend (sometimes) hours waiting for our number to be called to renew our driver's license or license plates.

That means, I had plenty of time to myself, to think.

The trend in 2018 seems to be athletes talking about their lack of mental strength and trying to figure out how to get it.

Sadly, we can't just go to the grocery store and purchase it.

It's across the board and typically follows a race where someone didn't have the results they expected.

There are two issues here rolled into one.

1.) Goal setting
2.) Mental toughness

I'm only addressing mental toughness. Every single athlete is different. Every single athlete has an approach that works for them.

This is why it is so important to have a Coach or a mentor or someone help you find the right strategy.

Of course, I'm in this group. This is the Year of Strong. This is the year that I am working on getting to the next level of my little triathlon hobby.

Inspirational quotes only go so far. When you are out on the course, alone with your thoughts, what happens?

Many years ago, Coach Liz told me (not a direct quote), "The half iron and iron are about outlasting the competition. The oly race is about pain. The people who race it the best either embrace the pain it or ignore it better than others".

I thought I understood what she was saying. Over the 4.5 years that I have been with her, I have found that I only hear what I am ready to hear at that moment and understand it in the way that I can for where I am.

Years later, I understand the deeper meaning of what she says.

A few weeks back, Liz sent me an article about peripheral versus central fatigue.

The article hit me like a load of bricks.

Here's a completely watered down explanation. Peripheral fatigue is the physical fatigue that we get. It's the legs burning feeling when you're pushing hard on the bike.

In other words, peripheral fatigue is PAIN.

But, it doesn't mean you're tired.

Here's where the article got interesting. Central fatigue is along the lines of mental fatigue. But, you're not really tired. Your body is experiencing fatigue/pain, so your central fatigue kicks in and says, "you're tired. slow down. back off".

I remembered Liz telling me, "The oly is about embracing the pain or ignoring it better than others".

And that's when it hit me. Just because I'm in pain, doesn't mean I'm tired.

I sent off an email to Liz with all my thoughts.  We went back and forth for a bit, and she said, " An old Coach once told me, 'The central governor won't let you die' ".

Just like that, I had a paradigm shift.

I started approaching my training with a completely different outlook.

Liz would give me a workout that was really hard. I started constantly saying to myself, "You're in pain. You're not tired. Pain is ok."

I started having incredible success with my running (in particular).

One day, I opened my training log to see that Liz wanted me to run my intervals at a 7:30 pace. I doubted myself and started at 7:57. I ended up building the intervals to the exact pace she wanted.
Throughout the workout, I repeated, "Pain is ok. You're not tired. You're in pain. Pain is ok".

I know. It's not exactly a quote that is going to be posted on an inspirational image of people running.

But hey, it worked for me.

I had another workout. It was my favorite type of workout: one of those run-bike-run-bike-run-bike workouts.

Those workouts are straight up brutal. To make it even harder, my runs were going to be sub 8:30 pace.

I'd never run as far as she wanted me to run at an 8:30 pace. NEVER.

After bike intervals at 105%, I didn't think. I started running at an 8:27.

Trust me. It really started hurting. Over and over, I repeated, "Are you tired? No. I'm not. I'm in pain. Pain is ok. Run harder".

I sped up to an 8:13 pace.

I amazed myself, truly amazed myself.

I know this is just training. I don't get wrapped up in training PRs. Still, they are glimpses that I might have found an approach that works for me.

It's not a natural way to think. In fact, it's not really an incredibly motivating way to work. It's more of a "cut through the bullshit. We have work to do" approach.  I'm a ways off from where I want to be and where I believe I can be, but these are the first steps in the right direction.