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Monday, 25 February 2013

Pain? There is No Pain

A good article by one of my athletes who probably has one of the best race day brains I've worked with.  Chris McCormack got asked once if it ever stops hurting - he said No - You just get faster at the same level.

Pain...There is no Pain

I often get asked about my performances and running marathons. I mean given my physical ability I run pretty well and the longer the race the better I am in relative terms. But I often get accused of many things and one of those things is simply not true...enjoying Pain. I often get accused of being able to block out the pain or enjoying pain. Neither are true. No one enjoys pain, that's just stupid.

Can I block out the pain? No, I'm not super human, I hurt just like everyone else. But my reaction to the pain, now thats something I can control. What do you do when pain arrives? Most people I know start backing off. They start managing the pain by slowing down and trying to make it go away. I did that once and I didn’t run well. I kept slowing down and eventually walking. I was still in pain but the pain lingered as I looked up my race results several days later. Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. I live by this in my life, work and my sport. So next time I trained and the pain arrived I didn't back off. It was one of my first long runs at around 30km but I had planned to stay on a 5.30 per km pace. I figured I'm out here I might as well do what I set out to do. I stayed at the same pace and just gritted my teeth and pushed harder. I pushed harder but went no quicker. Seem liked very little reward at the time. But I finished that training run, I ran the times I set out and the pain...well it was the same but ended the moment I stopped my watch. This was different from slowing down because the pain didn't linger. The moment I knew I held pace - well the pain went away. It had a reward. It started me thinking...

I read a lot of running books and take in many quotes to see if they apply to me. Most don't. In fact I find most running quotes annoying and lame. But every now and then some make sense. One of these quotes was from Running Coach - Jack Daniels. It is simply “When Struggling...Speed Up!”. I didn't understand it at the time but thought to myself “now that is something different”. Insanity it ain't.  

So I arrive at my first marathon nervous, excited but enjoying the atmosphere. I wasn't scared which is a reaction I hear from many first timers. I had put in the training, what was there to be scared of? A work colleague at the time and later my coach gave me some rather valuable advice. He said “most races are lost in the first 5km”. His meaning was that it was dangerous to go out too hard and burn yourself up well before the race had even started. He also advised me that the half way point wasn't 21.1km, it was 32km. The effort to get to 32km was the same effort as the last 10km.

I had my three secret weapons. Don't burn out too early, half way is 32km and my new concept never tried before “When Struggling...Speed Up!”. So everything went to plan. I ran the pace I needed. A very slow 5.45 per km. I had no idea what lay ahead so I ran within myself. It was my first and I had no idea what was to come. I managed to get to 32km and thought oh my god, this hurts. It hurts unlike anything else you have felt. Not a pain from running out of oxygen, not an intense burn like you get at the top of the hill. A pain that every nerve in your body says stop. Every foot step is an effort to get it in the air. My legs were lead. It brings tears to your eyes. The fact that I had run within myself to this point meant that I had enough sense to recall all the things I had in my kit bag. Don't go out too hard...check. Half way is 32km...check. When Struggling...Speed Up. So I figured now is as good as any time to try this crazy (not insane) idea. So I sped up instantly. I ran the next km in 5 mins flat and figured it didn't hurt anymore than running slow. I ran hard again for the next km and managed another 5km flat. I even did the math and worked out that if I kept going like this I would finish earlier. Yes a simple concept, run faster and finish sooner, but at the time my mind wasn't overly functional. I felt the pain, like everyone else. I even knew it was coming. But I welcomed it. Not because I enjoyed it. Not because I can block it out. It was because I had a plan to do something when it did arrive. I kept going with this plan and ran the final 10km in 50 mins.

In that final 10km I passed hundreds of people including some runners that had told me before the race that they were “better” than me. They were right too. They were better runners than me. Much better. What they werent so good at was managing pain. When the pain arrived they slowed down. They tried to make the pain stop or they tried to block out the pain when it arrived. Pain management is never about blocking it out. You can make it stop by stopping yourself but “Did Not Finish” never looks good on your resume.

So next time you're out on the road and the pain arrives change your mindset from pretending it doesn't exists to acceptance. Accept the pain is there and its the same pain that everyone else feels. Even the professionals feel the same pain as you. What sets them apart is what they do when it arrives. Don't try and block it out. Don't try and make it stop. When Struggling...Speed Up!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Setting up your Garmin for Racing

Did you know it is possible to race (either Bicycle or Triathlon) with absolutely nothing displayed on your Garmin Computer ?  Within the Garmin menus (Under Training/Alerts) you can set up Alerts for Cadence ranges, Wattage Ranges, Heart Rate Ranges and more.  Whilst technically possible this may be a tad boring but the Alert feature is a very useful one that I will talk about later.

(BTW - Did you know the Garmins have a cool feature that allow you to take screen shots using the Power Key)

There are really only two values that need to be displayed when racing although the Garmin 800 has a minimum of 3 fields.  The two values are Energy Zone and Cadence.  Before you go looking for Energy Zone this is a term I use for the value to measure energy output.  For most people  this is Heart Rate but for people with a Power Meter this would be Wattage

Heart Rate.

It is far easier to use Zone than actually Heart Rate.  This is because trying to remember the actual numbers for your heart rate zone eg aerobic, threshold, lactate etc can be difficult.  By entering these as zones mean you just need to keep the range in that zone.  For me, I set Zone 4 as 159-166 BPM so as long as my Zone say 4.x I know I am working hard enough without overly tapping into Glycogen.

For triathlon it is important to maintain an even cadence (so as not to grind) in a range similar to your expected run cadence.

Using these two numbers together is simple.  As mentioned I ride in Zone 4 and with a Cadence of 95. If, at that cadence, my HR starts rising I go to an easier gear - if it starts dropping I go to a harder gear.  Simple.

On my bike I have a Power Meter.  The concept is the same in terms of adjusting gears etc.  I use the 10 second averaging as it is much easier to read (smoother)

I strongly recommend against having speed displayed.  Speed has too many variables that are outside of your control specifically wind and course profile. Using speed into a head wind can mean pushing yourself out of your optimum zone and 'burning out' your legs for the run.  Speed can also 'mess with the head' of some people as they feel they are riding slower than they should but are in fact riding better than expected relative to the rest of the field.  Similarly having time displayed can cause similar issues.

I originally mentioned Alerts - this is a feature I use for my Nutrition Plan.  By setting a Time Alert for every 20 mins I am reminded when to take on fuel. (I use the Distance Alert on my 910 for the equivalent reminder on the run).  By using the Alert Feature it negates the need to have the mind-messing time displayed

As you can see the key is to keep it simple.  You have enough to focus on whilst racing without the need to be performing calculations, remembering times, zones etc.  By using the features of the Garmin you can focus on racing - and where the draft marshalls are.....

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Power of Negative Thinking

Walk into any bookshop (showing my age here, I mean browse on your e-reader) and you will see the shelves are full of self help books touting the power of Positive Thinking.  Books like The Secret tout that if you focus only on positive things and positive thoughts then only positive things will come your way.

As a side note it is interesting that 90% of people who buy a self help book will buy ANOTHER self help book within 12 months.  If they worked so well why do people have to buy another one..

Let's not confuse positive thinking with being positive.  Positive thinking is roughly classified as ONLY focusing on the positive outcomes and not being distracted by the negatives.

Bad Idea.

Consider this.  A rumour goes round your work place that they are about to lay off people.  Your co-worker insists on being positive, on believing it wont happen to them and going about their day.  You look at the negative - what would happen if YOU got laid off.  You think about your skills and how you could get another job, you think about your finances and how you could live, you think about a career change (did you really like that job anyway).  Both of you get retrenched.

The positive person is in a tail spin - their belief is shattered and they have no idea what to do next.  You simply shrug your shoulders and go about executing all those things you had thought of.

So what has this got to do with racing.

I hear a lot of people say "I'm just going to be positive and not think about cramping, I'm just going to think positive and not think about getting a puncture".  An athlete came to me the other day who had a history of cramping and told me he was going to be positive and that he was not going to cramp.  I told him "You are going to cramp".  He looked at me shocked and I asked if he does cramp what does he do.  He thought and then mentioned ideas like shortening his stride, stopping for 15 seconds to stretch, carrying some magnesium.

Now when he races and (as I suspect from his training and race plan) DOESNT cramp he has a great day but if he DOES cramp, no big deal.  He was expecting it and just deals with it.

Chrissie Wellington after setting the Ironman record at Roth said it was her perfect race.  When asked what that meant she said it wasnt that she didnt feel pain or discomfort but that she managed the pain and discomfort perfectly.

Many of the extremely successful people in business, sport, the arts etc are not Optimists or Positive Thinkers but are what are termed Eventualists.  Rather than saying if I do X really well I can make a million dollars they say "What if I fail - what will I lose - is that acceptable - yes - go for it"

One of the best examples of an Eventualist was the scientist who tried to create a new kind of glue but found it didnt bond very well.  His name was Arthur Fry - the inventor of Post It Notes.

Rather than being a positive thinker and then be shocked and (worse) under prepared for a bad outcome maybe practise the power of Negative Thinking - make a list of what could go wrong in an event, come up with a plan for those situations and you may be amazed just how relaxed you feel in your next event.