Monday 11 December 2017

Run like an animal and overcome internal voice saying 'stop'

Engaging the 'beast inside' allows us to dig deep.
Engaging the 'beast inside' allows us to dig deep.

Deirdre Hassett

I'm learning to speak American as we go, and while the running language here is a little different from Ireland (bellowing 'Nice job!' at people struggling through a race is quite encouraging here, but would probably earn you a punch at home), the basic intent is the same.

One of the highest accolades for a hard-fought race – which may sound like dubious praise to non-athletes – is "beast!" It's usually applied to a tough performance where you've pushed beyond the normal realms of comfort, breaking through the mental limits set by end-of-race muscle fatigue and switching on survival mode to beat the competition.

One of my favourite advertising slogans is the athletic clothing manufacturer, Pearl Izumi's catchphrase "Run like an animal". Athletes tend to be very analytical and precise about their training, and especially with the advent of GPS watches and associated apps, we are inundated with data, with information that tells us in constant closed-loop feedback how we are doing in training. While the statistics are important and give excellent guidance for smart training, it doesn't create the full picture of how we will perform on race day.

Engaging the 'beast' inside allows us to dig deep when the odds are against us, when the competition is bearing down or when the numbers tell the wrong story. No matter how well prepared and physically trained we are for a race, we still have to overcome the mental struggle when the body is running out of fuel or oxygen and the brain is whispering to us to stop.

This internal voice can often be overwhelmingly negative and learning to overcome it is key to successful racing. This is where tapping into our animal brain comes in, overriding the grumbling voices.

Learning how to embrace hard efforts in training is a skill that helps to tap into the inner beast. It's good practice sometimes to take your eye off the clock, leave your watch at home and run or cycle on feel, without music or talking. Feed the beast and it will repay you.

This Week ...

It's been three weeks since the Boston marathon, and I've milked the post-race recovery and celebration enough. The legs are working again so it's time turn the tables and get the bike and swim muscles into belated triathlon season shape.

Back to the Thursday night speed workout with the triathlon club on the bike in the Los Altos Hills. I was dreading starting back into this summer routine again. A couple of miles warm-up, then 20 miles at the kind of intensity that threatens the stability of your half-digested lunch. My plan was to build up the speed as I went along for my first outing.

I started at an easy pace, and the internal grumbling was loud. Why am I so far behind? Who is that girl there ahead of me? I'm normally faster than that person! As I picked up the pace, I noticed that the voices started to quieten. I ignored my watch and heart rate, and just worked on pushing the bike up each hill a little harder.

A day or two later I spoke to a coach about building up bike workouts, and he exclaimed "We have to build the monster!" Time to build the monster so that it's ready to unleash for the big races later on in the season.

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