Monday, August 4, 2008

Mental Toughness

I am not a strong person. I am not a fast person. I am not a particularly healthy person – in that natural vitality kind of way. I had a bad case of mono about 4 years ago, and I have never truly recovered from it. Because of this lack of strength, quickness, and health, I have to be very measured in my training, and preparation. (Yeah, because triathlon makes sense for someone who’s weak, slow, and not full of vitality!)

Over the last few years I have developed a training plan that works for me – and trust me, I learned every piece of this training plan the hard way! What I’ve found that works is increasing my workouts slowly and with a two step up, and one step down rule. I plan every single workout based on time, rather than distances. This is primarily due to the fact that if you run a blazingly fast 13 minute mile, and you increase your 5 mile distance by 10%, that extra half mile means 7 more minutes of pounding on your legs. That’s a whole extra mile for most people!

I’m totally OCD, and getting the spreadsheet out means that I go crazy with my planning, but I’ve also found that if my training is not structured, I do too much too soon, and get injured. I’ve basically laid it out like this:
“A” week – current fitness level
“B” week – step it up 5 minutes
“C” week – step it up another 5 minutes
“Recovery” – cut C week in half
“A2” week – repeat previous C week
Needless to say, when I put my current Tri training plan together in April, I had my schedule built out through November. That’s right, I told myself what I was going to do this morning (45 mins swim, 45 mins bike) back on April 21st.

Now, I have nothing wrong with the advanced planning. From a training perspective I’ve been able to stay healthy and progress at a good solid rate. I’ve had NO overuse injuries, and only 1 illness, which was more related to a lack of sleep from the Celtics winning the Championship than my training. My problem is the Mental Toughness of where I am in this schedule.

I hesitated even writing about this, because acknowledging my fears have had a tendency of making them manifest themselves when it comes to actually accomplishing the work. However, part of my attempt at blogging is to try to understand myself, so maybe by explaining my fears, I’ll be able to banish them to the internet universe where they can’t bother me.

My current fear is: TIME

When I started, 15 minutes of speed work (2/2’s) didn’t sound too bad. I did 3 sets of sprints and I was done. When I was making the schedule, I thought 45 minutes of speed work sounded like a long time, but I assumed that by slowly building up to it, it wouldn’t seem so long. However, this week I’m at 45 minutes of speed work (after 45 minutes of cycling by the way) and 11 sprints sounds like a monumental task - too monumental for a weak, slow, sickly person like me to do.

The funny thing is that 40 minutes didn’t seem long at all. It was just past 30, which wasn’t long to me. But now that it’s 45 minutes – it’s a whole different story. I feel the same way with my single event days this week. 75 minutes of running is a LOT of running in my book. That means the machine actually turns off, and I have to start it back up again, and then do another 15 minutes. I find myself also shortening my run/walk time on my 75 min run because I don’t think I could do 8/2’s for that long. Part of it is my hip and knee are still a little swollen from the bike accident – but there’s a small part of me that says “Eileen, you’re not tough enough to run for 75 minutes if you do 8/2’s.”

Interestingly, I was able to get through my 75 min bike ride without issue, after the fear subsided. I was able to swim and bike for 45 mins each today – and I felt good when I left the gym, not completely spent. Does that bring my confidence level up? Maybe a little bit.

I think the thing that I struggle with the most is that those chunks of time are large enough that just pumping up the volume of my iPOD doesn’t get me through it. When I’m tired after my 3rd sprint and I still have 8 more to go – it’s not very reassuring, and there’s a LONG time to think about how much longer I have to go. There’s too much time to think. You can only zone out to the latest Charmed rerun for so long.

The solution is to believe in myself, to know I’ve put the time in, and maybe to learn how to do quantum jojunction calculations in my head when I’m training (fat chance, I just had to count on my fingers to determine I’d have 8 sprints left if I had already done 3…). However it’s easier said that done. I’m going to continue to practice visualization every night about what I’m going to do the next day, and try to not panic as I envision 75 minutes of running long intervals. At the end of this “B” week, I have another jump, then recovery, and then I’ll repeat – and hopefully by then 75 minutes won’t seem so daunting.

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