Things That Lie To You In Training

The countdown continues, much too rapidly, to my race in Hawaii.  Only 50 days remain.  Focus is sharp, legs are responding well to consistent training, just feeling about 2.5-3 months behind where I would like to be performance-wise (due to a setback two months ago).  Guess that's why I paid my registration for Arizona 70.3 on October 21st as a "backup race".  While pursuing my own racing ambitions I have been reminded of a few key things that, if not properly understood, can cause an athlete to leave a training session frustrated and feeling defeated, and wanting to throw in the towel or host a pity party for one.  I like to think of these things as "little lies." If you give these lies a foothold in your brain they have the potential to negatively impact the race results you work hard for.


My next few blog posts will focus on these little lies that can sabotage your training.  Here is the first one..."If I sweat a lot I got a great workout!"


Your rate or amount of sweat during a training session is not a measure of your effort level.  This is contrary to the current fitness culture, which tells us that ending up in a lifeless heap on the gym floor to create a "sweat angel" is the pinnacle of effort given in a training session session.  Let me explain a bit.  First off, I'm a fair weather bike rider (call me a chicken or whatever you want).  But after a few close calls on days when visibility was limited by rain, road spray, fog, etc., I log a substantial number of miles indoors on the bike trainer.  Currently, as I prepare for my warm climate race in just 50 days, I have started to add in a few sessions on the trainer where I shut all the doors in the garage (training studio) and keep the fans turned off.  These are low intensity training sessions that if done out on the road would not feel like much of an effort.  However, when done with zero air movement, our bodies generate a micro-climate which makes it feel like riding your bike in a stifling greenhouse.  Kinda like riding on the Big Island will feel in less than 2 months.  By the time my ride is done, a small pond will have formed under my bike that has about the same salinity as the Great Salt Lake.  While this effort might look impressive at first glance, (look at that puddle of sweat, that guy must have really killed it today!) that session actually didn't do much of anything to improve my fitness.  What it did was to simulate the type environment I will be racing in soon.  Mentally this is hugely beneficial; it also helps with dialing in my hydration strategy for race conditions.


This example illustrates the point that your sweat rate is not a direct correlation to your effort level.  On another training day recently, my session called for intervals that took me above race effort for sustained periods of time.  We are talking leg-burning, mental struggle to keep the legs churning, kind of effort.  Fans going full blast and doors wide open, music blasting.  At the end of the session there was barely a drop on the ground beneath my bike.  No Great Salt Lake, no Salton Sea.  Nope.  The difference was that this session called for deep muscular effort.  Had I tried to perform that kind of effort with no fans and door shut I would have failed to produce the kind of power required for the type of session that I was trying to accomplish.  I heard an analogy at a coaching conference that referred to doing a high intensity session in a sauna like atmosphere as "blunting the tip of the sword."  This means that, if done with any kind of frequency, this will have a negative effect on performance because the body's limiting factor becomes overheating rather than building muscle during a hard effort.  Yes, you will sweat buckets, but that does not mean the training session was effective at helping you toward your race goals.


I have been know to tell my athletes that they are overdressed, especially on high intensity days.  Yes your knees should be covered on the bike in cooler temperatures, but that does not mean that you need 5 layers on top, plus 2 hats, a balaclava, and lobster-claw gloves when it is 54 degrees outside.  In running it can be especially easy to overdress since we do not generate the same speeds as in cycling, therefore the evaporative cooling effect is not as great.  This can lead to a lot of sweat, but not as much physical benefit from a given session.  It is important to keep in mind what adaptation you are seeking to achieve and plan accordingly.  Sweat volume or rate is not necessarily a good measure of whether you have achieved the goal of your session or added to your fitness.


With that being said, its time to hit the pool and then another round of "sauna session" on the bike.


50 days and counting...