Friday, October 22, 2010

The truth about pain!

I had some great debates over the past few days on Facebook about various topics including Total Immersion Swimming and pushing through pain so I thought I'd share some thoughts and parts of the debate with you.

One of the contributors wrote - "My race starts in T1", indeed that's how I used to race triathlons, my swimming was such a disaster and I'd cycle past hundreds of people repeating a little mantra to myself "If only I could swim, if only I could swim".

I tried everything including in a "Total Immersion" course to get better - but that just resulted in my spending three expensive training days floating a few centimetres below the surface and almost drowning. I learnt a lot about balance in the water but not much else.

In the end Brett Sutton (head coach of TBB) brought it home to me in a comment I read on TBB Forum - "Swimming hurts! If it's not hurting then you're not doing it right". What on earth is he talking about I thought, the good guys make it look effortless, just like TI. True but they are also hurting too, trust me THEY ARE HURTING. So where is this leading? Read on...

I believe that most people misunderstand pacing and back off to a pace in their comfort zone. Especially in swimming. I'm a terrible swimmer but I never swim in my comfort zone (anymore), I'm right up at the red line (it's very unpleasant) BUT ...I'm not in the red i.e. not anaerobic as that will guarantee I will crash and burn before the end.

If on the other hand you need to stay within your comfort zone just to survive the race then that's fine but you're participating not competing - you need to either settle for that and be happy with it (which is totally cool by me) or if you want to get better and compete then you need to push the limits without blowing up - a fine balance I know but a necessary one.

Whatever you "save" in the swim you'll never regain on the bike and whatever you "save" on the bike you'll never regain on the run. I read recently that the fastest way to race was hard on the swim, hard on the bike and if necessary hang on for the run rather than saving yourself in any particular discipline.

It seems to me that no matter how deep we dig there's always more to find. On the run there's always something there, always something extra - at the point where you were about to ease off on the run due to "exhaustion" or should I say "perceived exhaustion", imagine that a band of hungry cannibals were 200m behind you in hot pursuit. If it were real, would you carry on jogging or do you think you might be able to nail the rest of the run to the sanctuary of the finish line?

Exhaustion and pain are just tools the brain uses to protect the body but those protection mechanisms kick in very early. So the question is, how much do you want it? How much are you prepared to hurt?

I'm not talented (certainly not physically or athletically) I just have a bigger ego than most, I reckon I'm just prepared to hurt more and longer, nothing more. There are so many lean, muscular athletes I see, not just at races but every weekend training, I wish I had their bodies, but as it happens I usually beat most of them, but WOW, if I had their bodies with my ego and my willingness to go past the pain barrier in training as well as racing then I'd be unstoppable.

The real talented people on the other hand have the good fortune to have the physical talent AND the desire and the WILL to overcome pain and perceived exhaustion AND are willing to put the time and pain in during the many hours of training.

Never allow yourself to believe that an athletic looking guy or girl can beat you, they can't on looks alone however kind genetics have been to them. If you want to beat them though the race starts when the gun goes and finishes when you fall over that line. If your race starts in T1 then your race will never really start until you master the art of hurting in the swim and then on the bike and then on the run. ENJOY haha

One very valid point that one of the contributors made to the debate was that it's all very well pushing through the pain barriers if you're an experienced triathlete with years of experience under your belt but if you're a relative newbie and/or have potential injury problems then pushing the pain barriers will do nothing other than set you back months if not years. I COULDN'T AGREE MORE. MY COMMENTS ARE FIRMLY RESERVED FOR THOSE ATHLETES WHO DO HAVE THE EXPERIENCE AND DON'T HAVE LOOMING INJURY PROBLEMS.

Although you've got to identify the difference between potential injury pains or just an excuse to back off!!!

A final little point about the summary, I said the race starts when the gun goes off - in fact as we all know the race really starts months before the gun goes off in training but I'll take that as read!!!


Julian said...

Remember that phrase 'summer races are won in the winter'. So true.

Denis Oakley said...

I've been thinking about the same debate as well - and trying to push harder in the water. Over the last few months I've managed to achieve a step change in my swimming and running speed - and in my cycling speed (so much so that if I meet certain secret targets I'll get a Zipp wheel or 2)

That said, I'm struggling with pain in the swim. I can do it on the bike and the run - but not on the swim.

There seem to be two limiters - arms and lungs. I can burn out my lungs - which is fairly pointless on a longer distance - or I can work my arms really hard. If I work them really hard - to the point that I spend 90% of the length swimming with my eyes closed - it's a huge effort - but it doesn't really hurt.

So does this mean a) I'm a weakling who needs to start body building, 2) pain feels different in water or K) Simon and I feel pain differently?

And if you have a problem with the numbering - that's right YOU have a problem :)

Simon said...

Simple answer Denis, first of all wefeel pain the same, swimming is a different pain and basically the reason is because we don't do it enough. It's not that the muscles need weighttraining but they do need swim training.

I made the biggest improvements late last year and early this year when I was swimming between 10-20k a week every week.

Swim for an hour 5 days a week and you'll get better and stronger and then the pain will start feeling like running and cycling pain (albeit in your arms and lungs rather than legs and lungs). Time in the water dude. Simple maths just like biking and running.

Denis Oakley said...

Ooooh - and I thought I was doing a lot. 10km eats up a huge amount of time :(

Time to get rid of the day job methinks