Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TRAINING, NUMBERS & MENTAL STRENGTH



Well, here I am at the end of week 2 back into my triathlon training for the season. I have had some really good sessions on the bike lately and have pushed harder than I ever even thought I could possibly push on pedals. I do realize that now at the end of week 2 of my training, which includes 9 training sessions weekly, that my 'fresh' feeling is quickly starting to diminish. All to be expected though. As coach says..."1/3 of your training feels like absolute crap" and that's the truth of it. My last couple of runs have been bit tougher than norm!!

After IMFL in November, I didn't do a thing! No swim, bike or run for a long while. As previously posted, I started riding once a week maybe late December into January. Just easy riding and nothing more than an hour. Then I decided to start riding with a group from time to time. I went out of my first group ride with some really good local athletes and had no idea the pain fest I would feel on this 3 hour ride. I wanted to quit halfway through, I gave up in my mind and told myself that I sucked on the bike. I hung in and made it back to the car....barely. I realized in that moment, I needed to work. 

I went out on a second ride with a group sometime in January and started out feeling good, then dropped my car key, then I dropped my bottle 3 different times and all those mishaps mentally did me in. I felt like I was slowing everyone down with all of my clumsiness. Mind blown = shit ride. It happens. Leigh-Ann stopped with me towards the end with what felt like a bonk, but was really just my  mental landslide. I may or may not have even cried a little....


That was 2 rides with the group, which felt like an epic fail. Oh, but was it a fail? Maybe not. 
You see, those two rides did something for me mentally that I have never been able to pull out on my own. All of my solo long training rides, the long, the hot, those boring rides left me believing that I had cycling in the bag. It took me two group rides to see that I needed to work on things and one of those things being my biggest enemy--my mind. 

So it began. I started dragging my sleep deprived body out of bed once a week to go to a few compu-trainer classes and after two sessions, something started to happen. I began to feel something different. There was something coming out my legs that I hadn't quite felt before. I then began a cycle build series at home with coach. I have never really put the numbers out there, but for this blog, I am because it shows how the power of the mind can increase the power in the body. 

When I started my cycle trainer sessions, Rich had me do a CP20 (critical power) test to determine my Functional Threshold Power.  There are two ways to determine FTP. With the use of a power meter, one way is to do a 60 minute test and if you don't want do a 60 minute sufferfest, you can opt for the CP20 instead. The 20 minute test is similar to the 60 minute test, an all out sustainable 20 minute effort. AND THAT IT IS. WOW! 

After doing the first CP20, I had no idea what I could actually push out of my body and onto the pedals. I had never really trained with a power meter before. I was surprised and excited to see my numbers(after Rich explained to me what they meant) after my initial test. The way it works...since cyclist can maintain a harder effort for 20 minutes than 60, a factor of 95% of the average power for the 20 minute test is used to determine FTP. Still unsure of what all that meant, I decided I could push harder than that.

I rode again with the group and continued once a week power sessions on the trainer monitored by coach. I started getting stronger mentally. I could feel something different brewing inside of me and I could feel it coming out of legs every time I pushed down on the pedals. My mind started believing that I could do more and once my mind took me there, my body responded. 

I am a firm believer that the mind takes us where we want to go. I believe that positive thinking/positive mental attitude creates positive results. That goes for how we live, how we grow, our relationships with others, our health, everything. Negativity and pessimism creates toxicity. So, anytime the negative attitude of "I can't do this" or "It hurts too much" creeps up, the body follows along. I have seen that happen. It has happened to me, many times in training and racing. I am now learning to hold it together when the pain comes, when the muscles start firing and when the adrenaline goes up. It has become a sort of drug. I like to feel it now. I'm not scared of it anymore. I am ready to push that...to the max. 


A few weeks into my build series, I did another CP20 and this time I was ready to tap into my mental power and put my legs out on the line. I did exactly as coach instructed me. I felt the BURN in my muscles and through the sweat, I could barely see the numbers. I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was real and then when it was over, I couldn't have been more happy with the result. My 20 minute test left me with a total number of 239 Watts, so my FTP after three weeks was 227 Watts. I had a 14% increase in a little over three weeks. Did I get that much stronger in that amount of time? To some degree I had gained strength and I have been working really hard, but what was different going into this the second time was my confidence level.

As soon as I began the test, I worked hard. From minute 1 to minute 20 gritting my teeth, right up until the end. My mind never once had a negative thought, in fact, the only words I kept saying to myself is "You can do this." "It only hurts for a while, pain is temporary." The burn I feel when cycling hard has become pleasurable. Does that sound sick or what? The pain has become my friend, not my enemy. It has taken me 5 years- 5 YEARS- to find that line of discomfort that I now know that I can go over and survive. That line has been my battle for a few years now, but now after crossing over to 'that' side, it has done such wonders for my mental attitude. I've even hit 400 watts on my minute intervals and although that hurts beyond measure, I know that it's making me stronger both mentally and physically. 
I am becoming a real cyclist for what feels like the first time ever. I can't wait to see what the season holds.  My next battle though is hills. I need to try and conquer that as well. Last Friday, coach had me do a 40 mile tempo ride. The kicker--he says to stay in the big chain ring. The entire ride. Where I ride isn't flat, by any means. There are some hills in Catawba that on a good day I had trouble with. I am proud to report that for 40 miles I never changed gears once. I climbed every hill in the big chain ring. I had my strongest average and I couldn't believe it. It was windy that day too. What the???? 
Pedal, pedal, pedal. Imagine this predicament every time you meet a hill ;)
Coach said that it's mental. Of course it is physical as well, but I cringed at the sight of a hill prior to this ride and now I am beginning (little by little) to crave them. Again, my mind believes and my body is responding. The following day, I had another 60 to do. 12 mph winds, never mind. I tackled that ride and again, never changed out of the big chain ring once. Even on the hills. I have never been able to do that before. Ever. I won't always do this of course, but this has been a big boost in my confidence on hills.

I have had my share of hills/mountains in the past and maybe I have just chosen to forget about them ha! I've cycled the good ones Beech and Sugar Mountain, cycled through Boone, Blowing Rock and The Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville. I've been very lucky to have cycled the Cat 1's in the French Alps, pedaled through hilly Yorkshire England and cycled the gorgeous mountains in Greece. We actually lived and trained on Sugar Mountain for several months and I guess I forgot with living here just what 'that' kind of cycling feels like. I think I'm ready to tackle some real hills again. We'll see. After all, I am training to be a triathlete and not just a cyclist and Rich has to continually remind me of this. There is a careful balance and I don't want to wear myself out trying to get better in one sport, when I have two others that I need to try and be better at as well. I find that I want to ride every day now, but coach won't stand for it no matter how much I whine, beg or plead. I have to follow my training plan to a T and trust in my coach. So, 3 cycles a week for me. That's it.

I'm currently tweaking a race schedule for this season. A few changes, but hopefully I can lock that into place soon. I will NOT be doing Ironman 140.6 this year. I am giving my body the break that it needs from the full distance and mostly concentrating on Olympic and 70.3 distances this year.

Also, I plan to do the Time Trial Series at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. I've never done anything like it, so will be an exciting new challenge for me. I am really excited about it.  That's a full 10 miles of pain and I'm ready to feel the rush! My first TT will be in less than two weeks on April 9. 

So, back to numbers. As coach as says to me..."It's all relative isn't it?" So, to me, I guess a number is just a number. I won't post training numbers any more this season. I hope that I can put out the power and speed on race day and that's where it matters most. This sport is a hobby for me, not a job and I absolutely refuse to let numbers consume me. I can easily get wrapped up in them and have found myself doing it already from time to time, but have to remind myself to chill out every now and then and just have fun. 

Don't get to consumed by numbers
Lastly, I am really exited to have a great group of people to ride with now.They are all so strong in many ways and I have learned so much from them already. Riding with a group has been probably the best thing that has happened to me thus far. I am really grateful to them all for helping me to become a better athlete physically and mentally. If you get the chance to ride with others, do. It really makes a difference. It certainly has for me.

Happy training~

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