Thursday, July 28, 2011

Religious Education

Definitely reached saturation level last week. It's not only that the body feels tired but it becomes almost impossible to focus internally, to remain aware and keep good form.

During the past week it became clear that a good long rest was necessary - not just because of reaching the main goals for the summer - the Marmotte and two Etapes du Tour - but because of being drained. Performance level was not significantly improving, though endurance over very long distances had definitely improved. No more sore bum, sore neck, shoulders etc. and no doubts about going the distance.

The other sign of over-training is "injury". My left foot has started to have tendinitis in the "peroneus brevis" a tendon running down from the calves to the outside of the foot near the middle. It appears to be the cycling causing it but the barefoot running then aggravates it. Consequently I'm forced to wear low profile Mizumo running shoes with cushioning at the moment to help it to heal. I'd have been certain that the problem came from cycling if it wasn't for Christiane - who did three 10k barefoot runs in three days - developing exactly the same problem on the same foot! It's not a debilitating injury but it's slowing things down at the moment. 

On my normal 40k (1k climb) training ride early in the week I still had no enthusiasm, but nevertheless managed to reduce my best time by over a minute. That's definitely physical fitness improvement. Today however - after a few more days rest - I was able to attack the ride better and felt good - taking another 2 min 18 secs off the time. The difference was that this time it was possible to maintain a good level of focus and mental engagement throughout the workout. It's almost like the real limit isn't physical fatigue but mental fatigue. It's as if the tiredness is not either in the body or the brain but something to do with the connection between the two - a process instead of a condition. Today felt good and enjoyable, reigniting my enthusiasm for training - but somehow I'm more acutely aware of how the limits are more mental than physical. The unconscious mind is setting targets all the time - telling you the pace to go at- and it's annoying because who the heck gave it permission to do that? It's about as easy to override as it is to get someone to change their religion. That's probably not a coincidence because both reside in the unconscious mind. That does however indicate that hypnosis and visualisation might be useful here for squeezing out some improvement. I like the idea of training "religiously", educating my body not to ever get fat again. Perhaps this is why so many of the Tour de France Spanish and French (obviously catholic) riders visibly made the sign of the cross to protect themselves against vampires and the official blood sample collectors - or something like that.

Today was the first time this year that I was able to sustain a high force on the pedals and use a higher gear (4th) for most of the climbs. This is a deliberate effort to switch from endurance to strength, power and speed for a while. The feeling was good during the session but it left me wiped out and with aching quads later on - not a bad thing!

Went swimming to compensate for being in the saddle and all the leg work - though now that I focus on core muscle use there is a much greater cross-over between the sports. It was hard to focus on any effort in swimming - the unconscious brain was definitely playing its own game again. It's been a long time coming but I really feel the action is becoming natural with the crawl now. All the bits seem to add up and make sense whereas before it was all disjointed. It was the core muscles that brought it all together. Instead of thinking that something has to be done with the hands or arms - it's the core that dictates and the rest follows - it just doesn't work the other way around - and that's the same in running and cycling.

Here's a relevant quote from a "Total Immersion" forum...
Swimming's main propulsion is the pulling arm, assisted somewhat by kicking. As you said, spearing hands don't propel, hips don't propel, corkscrew torsos don't propel.

The thing is that the body ultimately moves forward by the laws of physics but the way to get your body to work the most effectively does not necessarily involve visualizing the physics correctlly.

When our brain thinks of using our arms obeying the laws of physics, we tend to use the small muscles of our arms. Arm muscles are small, weak, and tire quickly. We need to trick our minds into using the much stronger, high-endurance core muscles. So we come up with these frankly physics-violating visualizations of spearing, hip-drive, torso-twisting.

Those actions end up propelling the arm just the same, but different muscle groups are used. It is a trick of the mind, and many of us find it to be a rewarding challenge.

There can be some value to investigating the physics of the hands, body and feet and how they may move to generate better streamlining and more efficient leverage. But it is a completely different story than how to engage our brain to generate that movement.

John Carey
Madison, Wisconsin

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