What happens when you look at your training schedule and the instructions of the ride are as follows: “Ride how you feel.” No specific numbers to try and target. No goals to direct your workout. Just ride how you feel. Why are those types of workouts often the most challenging for athletes?? Why do hard workouts with intense intervals that make you push and push often feel “easier” than light workouts where you are just in cruise control and have no targets other than just to “ride how you feel”?
The answer is in fact quite simple. When the mind is engaged the body is engaged. When the mind doesn’t need to engage, the body let’s down and what should feel “easy” often feels hard. What happens when you are faced with an interval workout? Your mind is fully engaged as you tell your body to push to hit a certain a target. Your mind focuses on the target and your body responds with the appropriate mechanics involved in hitting the target.
So what happens when you are told to “ride how you feel”?? Now you are letting your body take control. And you are consciously thinking about how your body is feeling. Recipe for disaster!! Most athletes have other things going on in their lives other than their sport of focus. Many don’t get enough sleep, work hard and often have many obligations outside of their training. So when you really ask your mind to think about how your body feels, how do you think your mind will respond. I’M TIRED!!!
Of course you are tired! You often get up at ungodly hours to fit in training before getting the kids fed and off to school and then heading to your full-time job…
As a busy mother of three boys I have learned one essential lesson, which is really key for me to get through each day. NEVER SIT DOWN! What happens when I sit down? I realized how tired I am. Why do I always fall asleep watching TV or every single time I watch a movie (I’ve stopped even trying…)? My body stops moving and my mind interprets that sensation as being tired. The interconnection between mind and body is undeniable. So when the thought of feeling tired enters my mind, what’s the appropriate response? I need a nap? Fat chance! Instead it’s generally, I need to get up and move!
My primary mantra for this season has been “strong mind – strong body”. I was doing a long, hard workout a few weeks ago and my legs were feeling pretty fatigued from a long buildup of training. I was having difficulty hitting my power target on the first interval. My legs just hurt. They were tired. I rarely admit to myself that I’m tired. But today it hit me. I couldn’t deny it. I was tired. Mentally and physically spent. I kept asking myself how I should respond – do I back off and just ride easy home? As I already discussed, riding “easy” is often more challenging than riding intervals. If I rode home easy I would be thinking about how tired I felt the entire way and it would be a long, slow slog! I didn’t want to completely give up on the workout either. That’s just not me. What could I do to turn things around? I popped a caffeinated gel to give me a boost. My body might feel fatigued, but I can still give my system a boost with a little caffeine. After a few minutes I felt better and decided that I would try to salvage the ride the best that I could. I told myself “my legs might be tired but my mind can still be strong!” Then I turned it on and pushed through the next interval with full on drive. I not only surpassed my output for the first interval, but I met my target for the workout that I almost gave up on an hour earlier. I was exhilarated at the conclusion of the ride. I had overcome some initial intense doubts that I could get through this complete this workout as planned. Undoubtedly, the most valuable workouts are those where you truly question if you can make it through the workout. And then you use the power of your mind to overcome your doubts. STRONG MIND – STRONG BODY. Your mind leads and your body follows. The more you can push through these tough workouts in training, the more prepared you will be for race day.
I thought of this mantra frequently during my last race of the season, Chattanooga 70.3 World Championships. It was a brutally tough course that challenged me more than any course has ever challenged me before. My body was sending me signals of fatigue from mile 20 of the bike through the entire rest of the course. I just had to keep reminding myself that it was normal to feel these sensations of fatigue as this was the world championship and I had to give it all that I had. Nearly 5 hours of pushing myself as hard as I thought I could in each given discipline. It’s hard to keep your mind strong and engaged for 5 straight hours. A few times in the last 4 miles of the run, I felt my body giving in and stumbling to stay upright and moving forward. But my mind refused to let down. This was it. The final race of my 2017 season. This was what I had been training so hard for. I couldn’t let down.
My parents and my husband were giving me splits during the run. I had started out in 5th place. By the end of the first lap, I was in 3rd and then moved to 2nd. I was told with a couple miles to go that I was in 2nd but another woman was close behind me. All I could do was give it my all. I couldn’t worry about the others. I could just push myself to that finish line. As I approached the final stretch with about ¼ of a mile to go, my dad yells to me “there is one very close behind you, push it in to the finish line!” I didn’t want to push anymore. I was done pushing. But I could push for another ¼ of a mile. I knew that I had to. I crossed the finish line in a state of exhaustion. I had never given so much of myself to a race. I had given it my all. I finished in 2nd place, which I was thrilled with. But I was more satisfied with the fact that I had given every ounce of energy that I had and poured it into that race.
Reflecting back upon the race, yes I was thrilled with how I finished. But that’s not what it’s really all about for me. There are so many other things that I am even more proud of. I think that I prepared perfectly for this race. I couldn’t have trained any better. I was as prepared as I ever could have been. Physically from biking and running hard and long in hills and on flats, swimming hard in race-like conditions and simulating swimming against a current as I did in the race. And mentally from pushing through workouts like the one depicted above. I was mentally and physically ready for this race and I put 100% of my effort on that day into executing my race. I couldn’t have given any more of myself to the training and execution of this race. That was what I was most proud of. And the result happened to fall into place for me.
The mind is in charge; it tells the body what to do. Not the other way around. Your body doesn’t talk. It doesn’t have thoughts. It doesn’t say things like “this hurts, so I should back off and slow down.” Instead your mind does the talking. Your mind interprets your body’s sensations and responds accordingly. Sure you can train your body to perform at higher and higher levels with a heavy focus on training. But what many athletes don’t recognize is the fact that training the mind to perform is just as important if not more so than training the body to perform. In order to perform optimally, the mind needs to be trained to accept sensations of discomfort and be able to interpret them in a productive manner. Strong mind – strong body!