Mental toughness and always learning.

Ive 2 themes to cover in this blog.. Learning and mental toughness…

There are lots of things I like about training.

I like the fact that it calms me, centers me, keeps me fit and will hopefully let me live longer to see my kids grow and stay active enough to keep up with them.
I’m not going to list off all the other good things about training, that would be dull.. and would also probably abrogate the necessity for ever writing another blog post.
Lets focus on one thing right now… I like the fact that I have to keep learning.
I spend an ungodly amount of time in the education system. 7 years in primary school, 5 years in high school, 3 years in tech (ehh.. for you Americans this is like a bridge between high school and university), then 8 years in university. That’s 23 years of education.
One thing you get out of this is a love of learning. Not really a conscious love. Its not like you wake up thinking “HELL YEAH MAN I WANNA GO AND LEARN SOME SHIT”.
No, its a bit more subtle. A “PhD” is a Doctor of Philosophy. Philosophy from the Greek “philosophia” which is the love of wisdom. This stems from “philia” which means love (of the dispassionate and virtuous kind) and “sophia” which means wisdom.
So its a dispassionate, virtuous love for wisdom and knowledge.
This sounds fancy and pretentious… but there is an element of truth. Although it may not be so much of a love and more of a compulsion. A compulsive desire to understand things. Sometimes I get frustrated when my toddler asks “why” about everything… but I try not too because I do it myself in my head all the time.
How does this apply to training???? Where am I going with this??? Do I know? Possibly, stick with it and see….

Basically, I tend to analyse what I do. when I take on something, I need to know a lot about it. So when I started running, it wasn’t enough to go out, buy some shoes and run. I needed to read about running, research it, understand it. I also needed to stupidly ignore much of the “wisdom” I read and make mistakes. I probably needed to get injured, cuz sometimes its easier, sadly, to learn from your own mistakes than from the teachings of others.

The truth is though, that I like to learn. I like to read triathletes world, and runners world, and blogs and books about training. I listen to podcasts to absorb as much info as possible. Triathlon offers a lot to learn. On the surface this is obvious… its 3 sports rather than one. It goes beyond that though. There is also nutrition, transition, multisport (brick) workouts and the mindset that goes with triathlon.

So, in short, one of the things I love about triathlon, is that its like studying again.. but studying something immediately applicable that I love.

That last paragraph could possibly replace all the initial preabmle… but Im not deleting it now.

OK.. Theme 2.
Mental Toughness.

Training requires toughness and conditioning of the body. But it also requires toughness and conditioning of the mind. I’m pretty sure these two things are of equal importance.

One of the reasons that most endurance sports seem to be dominated by older folks has got to be partially due to the mental aspect. As we go through life we accumulate experience and mental toughness. We all go through hard times, life does kick the shit out of you at times, and as the expression goes… what doesnt kill us only makes us stronger. I think Nietzsche originally said this… more philosophy for you.

There is an alternative theory that whatever doesnt kill us leaves us battered, weakened and vulnerable… but lets ignore that and go with Nietzsche’s theory for now.

Lets vaguely connect this to training.
Yesterday morning I woke up at 6am.
Yeah, 6am on a sunday, another example of how training changes us.
I woke up at 6am, all ready for my long bike ride. I had prepped the night before. I had sorted out the flat on my bike, packed my bag and layed out all my gear so it would be easier to just haul ass and hit the road.
I walked, zombielike, down the stairs, looked out the window and there was 3 INCHES OF FRICKIN SNOW.
Cue me standing at the window, bleary, half asleep looking backwards and forwards between kitchen (place of coffee), window (place of snow), stairs (direction of bed and place of sleep).
It was a tough call.
Eventually I decided to phase the movement. I hit the kitchen, put on the kettle and opened up the laptop and googled “cycling in the snow”
Long story short… I decided to go for it. I was actually too psyched up. I hadnt had a long bike ride in a few weeks, I had planned a 9 hour training week and had already dropped an hour on friday night and there was no way I was don g 3 hours on the trainer.
So off I went.
It was tough going. It started off very difficult. Turns out you cant clip in to pedals when your cleats are jammed with snow. Also, I reckon its probably pretty funny watching a guy sitting on a bike, leaning on a lampost and picking at his shoes with an alan key.
Also, going down a really steep hill in deep snow on slicks is SCARY.
Once I got out on the main roads though it got easier and i got a 3 hour, 45 mile ride in the bag and felt great afterwards.

So what did I LEARN????
AHA!!!! See? The themes come together.. you’d think I clevely planned this, rather than rambling till it made sense
I learned a few things… and I think if we pay attention we can learn something, if not from every training session, but at least from every training cycle.
Key lessons from yesterday.

1. Dont give up cuz it looks like its going to be hard. Or, in shorter form. DONT BE A WUSS.
2. Dont do speedwork the day before a long ride. Thats an obvious one and again, something I had to learn from my own stupidity rather than just paying attention to what Id been told before. I had done a 7 mile run the night before. The 3 miles in the middle were 400m repeats at 6:30 with 400m recoveries. I also did this after being on my feet all day down at the market in Belfast. Despite this making my ride much harder… it also highligted key lesson number three…
3. Mental toughness makes a huge difference. I did 45 miles yesterday on sore and tired legs in the snow. Did it seem unduly hard?
Not really.
Compared with cycling across that frickin mountain in California at the tail end of a century ride it was piss easy.
Ive done lots of way more tough workouts. a “tough workout” is totally relative.
For you it may be a 3 mile run.
For me, a year ago, (quick check of training log), an 8 mile run at a 10 minute mile pace was tough going.
6 months before that, running for 30 minutes non-stop wasnt even possible.

So, learning and mental toughness. Really important and intrinsically linked.
The body learns how to work harder. The mind learns how to train better. Similarly the body learns to handle the pressure you pile on it, and the mind learns to listen to the body to judge the effort level in order to properly judge the appropriate load to put on the body. And of course, the mind learns to be tougher. To realise when the bodys complaints can be ignored and when they need to be listened too.

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