Friday, July 9, 2010

Just ride (or swim, or run)

When I was alpine climbing I got used to long slogs up snowfields just to reach the crest and find another long slog up another snowfield lay ahead.  Mountains where designed to play tricks climbers - it's common that routes have one or more "false summits" before you actually reach the top.

 Mt. Shasta, California.  False summits?  Look at that cruel ridge up the center of the picture.

Climbing a mountain is not unlike riding a bike or running.  Your legs and lungs burn.  This can go on for hours.  It takes physical strength to climb for sure.  But it takes mental strength too.

In the years between climbing and triathlons I lost a lot of that "mental strength".  A year ago a 10 mile bike ride was pure torture.  And I would make it worse by counting the miles down while obsessing about the distance ahead.  But I wouldn't necessarily finish the ride physically wasted.  I was letting my brain trick me into unnecessary drama.

I've been working on getting my mental game back.  Yesterday I rode south down PCH.  I had a tail wind and was flying - the computer showed a max speed of 27.8 MPH at one point.  This is a thrilling feeling for sure.  But I couldn't keep a little dread from sneaking it's way into the bliss.  Eventually I would have to turn around and ride home.

Soon enough that tail wind was a head wind.  And it was brutal.  But really, what where my choices?  I had to get home.  So I decided that for the 11 miles back I would not worry about speed and just spin it out as best I could.  I also decided I wouldn't look at the computer either.  I would just ride.

So I settled into aero and started pedaling.  I made up a dumb song that I can't remember just to keep a cadence.  I didn't obsess on any landmarks in the distance.  And I didn't look look at the computer until I got home.

And you know what?  I was pretty fast.  Not 27 MPH fast, but I averaged about 20 MPH back.  I managed to avoid the head games.  It was a bit of a "light-bulb over the head" moment.

Tonight was the Thursday night swim at Corona Del Mar.  I've been going to the pool every week to work with a swim coach and there is no doubt that my stroke is getting better.   But CDM had a rare 3 + foot swell on the go and after 100 yards I realized that tonight was not going to be the night where my pool work was going to get a fair test in the open water. 

 Add a 3 foot swell to this picture and that would be CDM today.

So I made up another dumb song I can't remember and kept swimming.  I'd get 6, maybe 8 decent strokes in and then I'd rise up on the crest of a wave and my form would go out the window.  But I refused to stress about it and kept going until I was done.

When I came out of the water I literally felt sea sick.  But when I looked at my watch, guess what?  I didn't loose any time due to the conditions.  I was surprised, but pleased that I found enough of something from somewhere to get it done.

Maybe I was a little slow on the uptake, but it's nice to be able to bring a old piece of the puzzle back into the mix.  Though it's early days with putting the mental stuff back in for triathlon, it was undoubtedly an essential part of climbing.

For me, it comes down to putting myself completely into the task at hand.  I have to remember that I love what I am doing, because otherwise I wouldn't being doing it.  And I have to trust that my hours of training will be there when I need them.  With luck it gets easier over time.

What techniques do you use?

15 comments:

Caratunk Girl said...

Yeah, mental toughness! That is one of those things that can't be taught, it is something you earn though fighting through crap like 3 foot swells and headwinds. Great job!

TRI-james said...

The best thing I ever did for the bike was getting rid of the speedo. Yes, I still record everything but I never look at the speed. I ride by intensity now. On the bike your speed has too many variables – same with swimming.

Good on you for tackling the tough swim. That will make races a piece of cake!

Kovas Palubinskas said...

Nice add of one more lttle piece of the puzzle. As someone once said, sports are 90% mental, the rest physical. Get your mind right and the rest follows. Ever notice how great a ride/run/swim is when you are happy?

P said...

Excellent post, the mental game is arguably the most important part of our sport (okay, any sport). Congrats on a great bike and swim, I love that feeling!
I'm doing a sprint distance tomorrow - 800/16/3.

Johann said...

I only run nowadays but am aiming for some long ultras. Trails are OK as I love nature so much I always find something positive to put my mind on. The road can be tough. 100 miles or more on the road becomes a mental battle. I sometimes use mantras, but usually try to think of the positives of why I’m doing it. Sometimes it might just be “I’ll be one of very few in the world that finish this”. Finding a positive reason for doing it helps me.

Barbie said...

I constantly talk to myself the whole way through a challenge. They are generally words of encouragement, but every now and then I give myself some "get crackin" words to snap myself out of a funk.

skierz said...

I think the mental game is the biggest advantage most of us get after we reach a certain physical level. Unless you are elite and have all the time in the world to train, our ability to move through the tough part is the difference between a good race and a great race! I have a mantra that I repeat once I get into the mental weeds, I also remind myself that I have chose to do this for fun so to keep it perspective

DRog said...

Nice ride back into the wind! I hate unessesary wasted energy...I do it too...with time... with time maybe I can Free Myself! which btw I was just poking thru your blog main page looking for music that Kovas mentioned earlier in the week or last week...and it looks like Im on ledger for a TSHirt! nice! Ill have to shoot u an email
-D

Jeff - DangleTheCarrot said...

Nice job man, good hard workouts!

Jon said...

Headwinds and swells are those things in a workout/race that you have to mentally accept, then turn into a challenge that you are going to beat it! I always say that climbing on your bike is 50% mental, 50% physical. Once you have beaten it in your head, you are halfway done.

kenan landers said...

Thats a pretty high mountain to climb. whoah

J. L. said...

Amen to it being such a mental game! I count when things get bad...I count my breaths, my pedal strokes, the windmills on a ride, the rocks on a run, and everything in swimming. Sometimes I start counting in binary ... that's when I know it's bad. And sometimes I can't count past 5.

valen said...

I do as JL said, back to counting and correcting technique.

Glenn Jones said...

After my little 5 hour death march in the Santa Ana mountains yesterday, it's pretty obvious to me what I need to work on now. Thanks for the timely post Patrick....

Trish said...

The mental game is where I struggle the most! It's good to know I'm not alone and that even people that are successful in this sport struggle too!

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