Here’s a story. A 52 year old guy, very overweight, binge drinker, hadn’t taken much exercise for quite a few years due to parental and work responsibilities, decided he wanted to do an ironman distance triathlon. In truth, he had thought about it in his thirties, when he had flirted briefly with sprint distance triathlons, but then just forgot all his dreams and got on with living. For those who don’t know , an ironman is a 3.8 kilometre open water swim, a 180 kilometre bike ride and then a marathon. The whole thing has to be done in less than 17 hours.
Six years later he found himself completing the event, comfortably within the time limit, despite torrential rain all through the bike and run and with no ill effects whatsoever. He felt incredible, like he was superhuman, having proved all the doubters wrong, knowing he could achieve ANYTHING he put his mind to, and wore his finisher’s t-shirt for the next 2 weeks!
He thought others might want to feel like that but they probably just assumed that this was for superhuman natural born athletes, not ordinary people. He wanted to tell these people that their limits are not really their limits at all – it’s just their comfort zone. He also wanted to tell them how people treat you differently when they know you’ve done this – you command instant respect and are given ‘superhuman’ status. Like he said, can you imagine the confidence that achieving something like that instills in a person?
These were his 5 first steps for achieving endurance success;
- Above all, win the mental battle. Visualise the finish and how exactly you are going to feel when you cross that line – create detail to these – your proud wife and kids, all the people high fiving you as you go down the finish funnel to inspirational music etc. Have this in mind in every training session, so you know exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t listen to anybody telling you it’s bad or dangerous or stupid or crazy – usually it’s their own weaknesses they’re unwittingly thinking about, not yours. It’s your life, not theirs. If they want to be ordinary, instead of special, that’s their choice.
2. During the race/ event, win the mental battle by focusing on the now – the next step and the next one. ENJOY being in the moment, devoid of all distractions, at one with your body, a dot in the natural landscape, just another creature with no other purpose than forward movement. You can easily get into a trance like state where miles pass in what seems like a few seconds. You realise that time is only in our heads- a purely man made product of the Industrial Revolution perhaps? With your mind in control, you begin to understand that physical tiredness is also just in your head and there’s nothing to stop you carrying on for ever if that’s what you want. Another useful tip is to break down the total distance in your head into small bite size chunks. For instance a 100 kilometre run is simply 5k repeated 20 times or just 1 kilometre repeated 100 times. You know you can run these smaller distances comfortably so suddenly it seems easier. A 7 day event is just 1 day repeated 7 times, so if you know you can run a whole day, you just repeat the same. It’s a lot easier than thinking about the massive distance still to go!
3. Get your nutrition sorted out a long time before the event. This is absolutely crucial the longer you go. Like all other mammals you are designed to burn fat for energy, not sugar. You need to adapt to this and it takes a while to do so. It’s achieved initially by minimising all forms of carbohydrate in the diet – essentially just eating real food, instead of products made in factories. Once you’re fat adapted you can run up to around 600 miles on your stored body fat alone. It helps initially to train at a low intensity during the adaptation phase but, later, you can perform at higher intensities too, just like a cheetah or a lion manages to do so without a sugar fix! When you think about it like that, it should tell you what a nonsense it is to think that sugars are essential for energy!
4. You need to spend a lot of time on your feet in preparation – whether it’s a long distance triathlon or running race. Just going for a day long hike will make your glutes scream if you’re not used to it. Unless you intend to race at the sharp end then speedwork is not necessary and much high intensity training will actually impact negatively on performance.
5. Educate yourself – read how the top people train and learn from them. Don’t follow advice from people who have no life experience of what you want to succeed in.
6. Surround yourself with positive like-minded people who can also be training partners sometimes, share their experience etc. And of course, avoid the opposite of these like the plague.
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