This past week, five of the athletes who I work with raced the 70.3 distance of triathlon. That means that they swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles, and then ran 13.1 miles. When folks from outside of the endurance world hear about such an event, they immediately ask, “But wait?? Don’t you get tired??”
Yes, yes they do. But that’s the trick my friends: the secret to success in endurance events is learning to manage fatigue.
Yes, indeed. Endurance sports is about skills, but it’s also about training the body and mind to keep going even when one is tired. This is a physical skill, but it’s honestly a bit more of a mental skill. I’ve learned that what the brain thinks the body will follow. And so, training the brain to stay engaged and keep going will help keep the body going as well.
How does one do this?? Progressively long workouts in a training plan are one of the main ways to accomplish this. As any long-course endurance athlete will tell you, those long workouts are t-o-u-g-h, especially when an athlete is hitting certain distances or durations for the first time. But getting out there, putting in the time and the miles, and showing oneself that going the distance is possible is one of the main ways to train the brain that it’s actually capable of going further than it may have previously thought possible.
What happens on these longer workouts?? Well, the body does physically learn to adapt to the training stress that is imposed on it, so it does grow stronger (and thus, the longer workouts don’t feel as hard when they are completed with more frequency). But the mind also learns what it’s like to keep going that long. It learns how to deal with the “boredom” that comes with longer distances. It learns how to keep doing all things that make forward momentum possible - fueling, hydration, cooling/heating maintenance, and overriding the “normal” signals that the muscles are sending the brain to stop.
None of this is comfortable. It requires becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. But like so many things in life, because it’s hard, it makes it feel all the more worthwhile once it’s done.
This week, I challenge you to train your brain on your longer workouts. Add this very important tool to your athlete’s toolbelt. Embrace the idea of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Know that you WILL be uncomfortable, but that you also are (and will be) strong enough to work through that discomfort. And you’ll be that much stronger and well-prepared to reach your goals because of it. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.