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Mind v. Body. « Tamsin Lewis's Blog


Mind v. Body.

The first weekend in Sept. saw a Team TBB contigent head to the Lorraine region of France to compete in Triathlon de Gerardmer – a weekend ‘festival’ of triathlon events.

Heading out in the XL race (does XL here mean extra long or extra large… I’m not quite sure…but it was extra for sure!)… was myself, Xena, Emma Smith (online coaching athlete) and on the side of Les homes was Stephen Bayliss.

Gerardmer is a stunning place and the organisation of the event was nothing short of excellent…. Crowd support was awesome and the bike course by coming back into town every lap (for 3) meant that the spectators had a thrilling view of the race.

For me the race was a tough one…. The weeks leading up to the event have seen me in a bit of a funny place… with self-doubt creeping in to places where it wasn’t welcome and it had been a daily battle positive self talk to dampen down its hold. Reasons for this are multifactorial and I wont go into any detail – but life is a learning curve and like Alpe Duez there are steep bits and gentle slopes…. The steep bits are the ones that test you most.

The swim as you can see from the pic was a bit of a battle field. Positioning myself at the front in the middle, perhaps wasn’t the best choice as I quickly discovered as three different people literally pulled me under the water in attempt to ? get over the top of me… well I soon learnt… and got out to the side as soon as … which meant I was largely swimming out of my own … but some clever chappy managed to get on my feet and didn’t budge practically the whole way… this is fine… just don’t blimin pull me under ok?!

So swimming away and no one of the right speed to draft so tried to get my own rhythm…. And then up ahead I saw people getting out of the water at a big Powerbar sign which I thought (from the race briefing) we were meant to swim around?! Hmm…. Now this was at about (retrospectively thinking) 1400m so I’m thinking this is a reeeeeaaaallly short swim… I should have gone faster as still seemed to have a full tank .. so get out… and on Autopilot take my hat (neoprene plus other) and goggles off… eeeeeejit.
Shouts of c’est ne pas fini!! Then rang in my ears as I realised we had to run around and jump back in the water…. So slightly dizzy from standing quickly out of the water I attempted to un-scramble hat and goggle from each other and reassemble sur ma tete. This didn’t seem to want to happen with any ease and after what seemed like f o r e v e r (esp. with a cameraman protruding his lens in my distressed face) I threw them aside and jumped back in… swimming like a demon to try and get back in the race. Now I should have swam the whole 1900m like I swam the last 500m sans goggles/hat… bit of aggression there…
(that learning curve again)

Coming out was dizzy as a dodo with the effect of the cold water on a uncapped head which made for a wobbly transition.
The bike course was pretty awesome… and I kinda wish it had been a bit longer as started to feel stronger on the last lap. The run, well.. as I had been suffering from a hamstring injury over the past 4 weeks, my prep hadn’t been perfect so I started the run a little more conservatively that I usually would… hoping to build my pace. Well it never quite went to plan as I was in quite a bit of pain in my Right buttock… and the pain meant that negative internal dialogue started to creep in and I found myself battling with the will to finish on that podium and the voice telling me I couldn’t push any harder.

Coming off the bike I was in 3rd… and not knowing any of the French competitiors I wasn’t prepared to have 2 super strong runners come past me… Like I said I should have gone with them, but I didn’t and therein lies the paradox.

I was reflecting on the negative self dialogue that I’d been struggling with of late trying to change it, refocus and well HTFU. Flicking through this months’ article of Triathlete Magazine, I came across an article entitled….

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Definitely worth a read…
He begins talking about one of the most spectacular bonks in triathlon history at the 1995 Hawaii Ironman. Paula Newby Fraser having already won the race seven times, built a seemingly insurmountable 11-minute lead on the bike. But Karen Smyers came after her hard on the run, chipping away at the gap at more than 20 seconds per mile, mile after mile. With 10K to go, Newby Fraser still had three minutes in hand, but seeing how close Smyers had drawn, she panicked and began skipping aid stations. In the closing miles of the race her stride slowly tightened up, and then it fell apart. AS she descended the famous hill on Palani Road with scarcely two kilometres left to cover, she began to start weaving like a drunk driver.
She told journalists after the race:

“ I stopped at one point and said: “I can’t finish’. I was starting to lose consciousness. .. Why couldn’t I have kept going another 200 yards? But there was no way. I actually thought that I had given my life to this race and was going to die. When I sat down on the road, there was no way I could move. I said to myself ‘just take another step’, but there was no way I could do it”

Moments after Smyers passed a stationary Newby-Fraser(NF) on the homestretch, the utterly defeated champion collapsed, staying on the ground for 20 minutes before she recovered enough to walk to the line, now in fourth place.

Newby-Fraser posed an interesting questions. Indeed, why couldn’t she have just kept going another 200 or so yards to the finish line? One might speculate that slipping those last few aid stations caused her muscle energy stores to run dry and they shut down; or that feeling the pressure of the chasing Smyers had caused her to overreach and overheat;or that 10 hard years of triathlon had taken a toll on her body, which could no longer go as long and hard as it used to.

Exercise physiologist, Samuel Marcora would offer a rather different explanation for NF’s implosion within sight of the finish line. He would say she just plan QUIT. Her muscles were perfectly capable of getting her tp the finish line ahead of Karen Smyers. The feeling that she was physically incapable of taking another step was an illusion. She just couldn’t take the suffering anymore and over and over she told herself she couldn’t go on.

See it here!

So…… (and I know Doc will love to read this!)
Fatigue is all in your head. That is easy to say, but harder to convince yourself of when your legs are cramping and the pace has slowed to the trademark Ironman shuffle. But really, there is a theory in endurance sports that suggests that fatigue is not a product of bodily shutdown, but of the brain.

The traditional model of fatigue focused on peripheral factors. The idea was that the muscles in the legs and arms begin to fail due to lack of oxygen, glycogen or electrolytes and so we slow down accordingly. Tim Noakes, professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, was credited with pioneering a new model of fatigue, referred to as the Central Governor Model (CGM). This model asserts that physical exertion is controlled by the brain and not by the peripheral muscles. When the brain senses that reserves are getting low, it begins to shut down muscle fibre recruitment in order to protect the heart from damage done by lack of oxygen. So it is not your quads giving out underneath you, but it is actually your brain telling your muscles to take it easy to avoid a physical catastrophe. You’ll experience this reduction in neural recruitment as fatigue, but there is actually always an “emergency reserve” maintained in the muscles. It is similar to the fuel light coming on in a car: It motivates you to take precautions against running out of fuel, but realistically you can still drive a fair way on “empty” due to the buffer built by manufacturers, who know that a certain gender is hardwired to ignore the first few warnings and drive around on “E” until the situation gets really desperate. There are always a few athletes who can override this internal regulator—we have all seen images of athletes crawling to the finish, having ignored their bodily signals for so long that a peripheral breakdown really does occur.

Samantha McGlone –writing for Triathlete Europe suggests way of overcoming the fatigue demon….

I find the Central Governor Model comforting. It’s good to know that all that pain I am experiencing in a race isn’t actually doing irreversible damage to my muscles and systems. The pain is merely a strong suggestion that I might want to slow down and get some fuel and fluids in ASAP. With that knowledge, it’s easier to push past the comfort zone and well into the hurt locker. If you stop considering that pain is a bad thing, if you can remove yourself from the immediacy of the sensations and look at pain as an objective signal, like that gas indicator light, it becomes much easier to just grit your teeth and get to the finish line as fast as possible, which is really the best motivation of all’

Instead of the pain, focus on these five things:

1. Form: It’s hard to run properly when your legs feel like lead, but thinking about form cues will increase efficiency and help recruit the strongest muscles for the job.
2.Fuel and fluid: It seems obvious, but slowing the pace a little and fuelling at each aid station can bring a racer back from the brink. The brain runs on glycogen, so motivation requires a steady stream of quick sugar.
3. Count steps: Sometimes it’s all you can do just to put one foot in front of the other. Try just counting strides to 100 a few times and voilà—there goes another mile. Up for a challenge? Count backwards.
4.Think about why you are racing: Personal achievement, charity, family, friends, a bet, etc. Knowing that someone else is counting on you makes getting to the finish line all the more pressing.
5.“Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” Kind of corny but oh-so-true.

So if you can control your mind… you can control your race. But as one has to physically training for a race… mental training is worth giving a shot too…
Having a mantra… a positive motivational phrase to repeat to yourself daily….

For example :
Sports psychologists use the “If … then” model.
1) If I feel tired then I will focus on good technique. (e.g attentional control).
2) If I feel low in confidence then I will visualize myself performing at the top of my game.

The key to using psychological strategies if to REPEAT them.. (5 times a day!) as this reinforces their implementation, and conditions the response so that when it is needed it is automatic.

If you are based in the UK you may want to take a look at this website…. As I hear nothing but awesome stories about Kim!

and now for some more  Pics from Gerardmer!

Bye For Now….. Off to Kona in a few weeks… to soak up the atmosphere (whilst training of course!) and support my other half…. with the view… maybe… just maybe… of competing there next year :)

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