Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Staying in the game

Lost:  Mojo.
Reward offered.

When I signed up for a November race, I had not fully appreciated how much motivation impacts preparation for a late-season race.  It's easy to say that the reason I participate in triathlon is because I love it but I'd be lying if I said that staying focused and positive over the last couple weeks has not been a huge challenge.

Big volume is tough, even at the best of times. A rigorous training schedule forces you to be diligent with nutrition, rest and balancing the rest of your life with the physical demands of training.  Juggling workouts, laundry, meal planning and a (more than) full-time occupation is a sport of its own.  Nasty weather adds a further layer of complication, as does the loss of willing training partners.  While many of my friends have been kicking into their off-seasons, I've been slogging out the miles in the rain.  (A friend of mine commented yesterday that he'd rather stick his Remembrance Day poppy in his eye than join me for run intervals.  I kid you not.)

Add to all of this a loss of spark....and it's not a good thing.

A discussion with Coach Bjoern about my waning enthusiasm made me feel hopeful that what I'm going through is somewhat normal for a late season race and he made a number of helpful suggestions.  He has an incredibly positive and experienced outlook, and it is one of the reasons that I really like working with him - he knows that training isn't solely about logging miles, but also about keeping yourself psychologically in the game.  Four weeks before race day is where the mental aspect comes into play, and like it or not, the reality is that the mental aspect of training is just as challenging as the physical.

Staying focused on a late-season race requires a lot of mental reinforcement.  This includes not only positive thinking, but a re-examination of the goals I set for both my upcoming race and next season.  Why am I doing this?  Are those goals attainable?  This evaluation exercise was somewhat helpful in tempering my flare-up of demotivation because it reminded me why I am doing what I am doing.  I was so mired in the details that I was forgetting what the big picture was.

Quite the opposite of the big picture, I have also discovered that compartmentalizing the task at hand is helpful in staying focused.  By taking one step at a time, breaking each workout into pieces and mentally reinforcing success at each stage, it is much easier to maintain mental focus.  Not a 4000m swim, but a series of smaller workouts each with an intention.  Not a 30k run, but a warm up, main set and cool down.  A 18 hour training week taken as a whole is daunting - eleven specific workouts with stated goals, however, are less so.  

Mental reinforcement has also come in the form of keeping negative thoughts from occupying space in my head, especially while training.  Last weekend I spent twelve hours on my bike(s), the last four of which I did alone in nasty, rainy conditions.  I literally saw only 3 other cyclists the entire time - it was cold, wet and lonely.  In order to get through it and stay focused on my goals for the workout, I broke the ride up into one hour pieces at the end of each of which I was allowed to have a "treat" provided I met my stated goals for that block.  I know it sounds silly, but it worked.  I "treated" myself to a 5 minute rest stop to warm up my hands, an extra peanut butter bonk bar, and a mango smoothie. extra bonk bar.  Pretty lame, right?

The mind is an incredibly powerful tool and it is amazing how much a little extra reinforcement can make your body more willing to do what you are asking it for.

And sometimes, like yesterday, there is simply no reinforcement strong enough.  I had a tough run workout - 8 x 1 mile at threshold - and only managed 5 repeats.  While I've realized that occasionally failing workouts is a reality, it is still hard at the time to rationalize why every inch of your body simply says "no".

And yet, I know that after this week that the taper will begin and this will pass.

One day at a time.

Trust in the training.

Eat.  Rest.  Stay positive.    

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