Roughly every 4th week of my training plan is a test and recovery week. The training volume drops, but I have a series of benchmark session to do so the coach and me can see whether things are moving in the right direction.
So there I was one Wednesday evening in my basement on my trusted turbo trainer churning out my monthly 80k time trial. By now I have a fairly high boredom threshold when it comes to turbo sessions. When I first started I would barely last 20 minutes! But for sessions like that I load up my mp3 player with podcasts, and tune out the world with those beautiful Sennheiser headphones that drown out most outside noise. That particular evening it was IMTalk I was listening to, and they were talking about the mental tricks you can engage to get through those tough sessions. That in turn made me think of what I do (which admittedly is fairly similar).
So here are my top 5 in no particular order:
Counting and numbers, and by that I mean anything. Just keep your mind busy. During hard interval run sessions I find myself counting my foot strikes, forcing myself to get to 100 before I will look at my watch again. During swim sessions I often work out the percentages of the total I’ve already swum. I count pedal revelutions too. It all helps.
Breaking things up: 2000 m swim test sounds tough? You lose count easily. How about thinking of it as 5×400, and starting to count from scratch every 16 lengths? It’s what I do, and it seems more manageable to me. Same goes for landmarks on the run. The other day I had 3x 20 min at race pace to do, and I worked out that this was 2 and 2/7 loops of my usual route around the local park. In my head I was running down the bottom straight and then 2 laps. It still surprises me how well this works.
Technique: When I get tired and start slowing I check my form. There will be different things for different people, but I’m notorious for scrunching up my shoulders when I tire on the run, as well as not using my glutes and slowing my turnover. I check this and correct it, and it always results in better (=faster) running. Keypoints on the bike would be keeping my upper body still, the head tucked in, and the leg movement smooth. My swim tick list is bum to surface, stroke rate up, and finishing the push phase of the stroke.
Knowing what you’ve done. I find it really helpful to remind myself that I’ve pushed through things much tougher before. If I’ve done it before there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it again. So in my head I transplant myself into those past situations, imagine just how tough it was, and suddenly it becomes much easier to push on with the session.
Talking to yourself. Most athletes have little phrases that trigger something in them. I certainly can be caught muttering things like ‘Relax’, ‘Come on, Liz’, and the German ‘Beißen’ during training and racing. If it’s windy I sometimes scream into the wind. There’s a lot of more detailed conversation going on in my head, but those said out aloud, give me a sudden burst of energy, the little bit of extra I need to finish whatever I’m doing strongly.
Some people might say, just HTFU and get on with it, but they’re probably not any tougher than you, they’ve just learned to use all the little strategies to trick your mind!