Coming off another JHC Camp in Tucson this past week, I was reminded again of some of the key areas I try to work on with athletes : Re-defining hard and Suffering.
There were lots of tears at camp, but also lots of breakthroughs. Tucson’s climate is not easy for the athletes that have been hibernating all winter in their basements. Further, everyone in their basement is winning their own workouts all alone in a climate-controlled and fuel controlled environment. There is nothing wrong with this at all – hell, this is how most of us train all winter. But, at camp, my job is to show athletes that we race in shitty conditions and on not so perfect days. Tucson had record heat this camp. It was 94F on Sunday. This is hot for many northerners!
Camp is not complicated. I keep it very simple, very precise and VERY hard.
We ride a lot. We run a lot and we swim a little bit. I would love to swim more, but really these athletes need to ride outside and work on bike handling skills, shifting up hills, climbing Lemmon multiple times and how to stack day after day of big workouts and how to finish camp feeling tired but also accomplished.
The biggest thing that I want the campers to walk away with from camp is this: Re-defining what their definition of HARD is.
Some athletes excel at this. Many elite AG and PRO racers got this. They can suffer when the workout says, “RUN UNTIL YOU PUKE.” In fact, some elite AG and Pros will retire purely for this reason: THEY are done suffering. And, once you are done suffering (at that level), you need to walk away. This is what happened to Jerome. He finally just said, “I just do not want to hurt anymore.” Got it. Understand. Getting out of bed EVERY day to test yourself, rip yourself apart (when the workout calls for it) and re-defining hard every season can be exhausting on many levels.
However, there are many athletes that just do not understand this concept. Even when I say “HARD” in their workouts that they do alone or in their basements, even with data, it is not really hard…it is a “harder effort” sure, but not what I mean by OMG this is hard.
For example, on the 2nd last day of camp, after long days and long rides and crabby crotches, I make the athletes do Time Trials up Mt. Lemmon. The campers do anywhere from 1-3 x 5 mile repeats up the steeper part of Lemmon. I love this workout and think it really shows me what can these athletes endure : mentally and physically.
I do this ride at 1:00pm during the heat of the day and Sunday was 94F in the shade after many of them ran 9-16 miles that morning.
I remember doing these Time Trails with Spencer Smith back in the day – I would be gutted, tasting blood, near vomit at the top of these 5 miles ( he would be soft pedaling). But, they were pivotal in my understanding of what hard really was on the bike and what we are truly capable of mentally and physically. I had to be turned inside out and humbled to really “get it.” But, once that switch happened, I knew how to do it every time I was asked to ride “hard.”
I sent the group up Lemmon – tell the lead rider what the “camp record” is to mile 5, so he has someone to chase and the rest chase their own inner demons. Jerome and I start at the back and ride through the riders to encourage them. Honestly, I do it so I can really see who is working.
If I go by the athlete and he/she is not breathing or drooling over themselves OR blowing snots, they are not going hard enough. When I say “HARD,” I mean ALL out. Doesn’t matter what the HR says, the power says, I do not care. Get rid of it – just you and your head. Of course HR will be high, power low, we are on day 4 of a massive camp. But, what I want is for these athletes to really TEST themselves – throw away the limiting data. JUST SUFFER. Cry and even want to stop. Only then will they understand what they are made up and what their own personal limits are.
How do you really dig deep and go harder than you ever thought possible?
When it comes to athletic endeavors, especially endurance sports, your ability to suffer can mean the difference between a good race and a great race and continuing to improve and PR.
Part of this is confidence and the other part of it is experience. You have to hit rock bottom in training – where you are in tears, or near vomiting or sitting on the side of the road begging for mercy to really understand what your limits are. And you need to be able to do this in all three sports. Many athletes excel in one sport, but are challenged with how to transfer this to the other sport. I find many elite D1 swimmers who really have to re-define what hard is and learn what hard is in running, for example. For some it doesn’t come natural. For the ones where it does, they can rise to the challenges and put themselves out there, overcome their fears and rise above their competition.
One of my challenges of a coach is to teach people how to suffer and re-define what HARD really is. I would say that 85% of the athletes I work with can suffer more. And, teaching athletes really what hard vs easy is – is key too. Many athletes are training in that grey zone all the time – “just training” but with no specificity and no clear delineation between hard and easy. This will initially get you fit, and in the beginning you will do OK, but as the seasons go by, unless you tap into this “suffering” you will plateau and see less and less improvement.
In Carrie Cheadle’s book: On Top of Your Game she refers to this suffering:
A lot of athletes don’t realize that they haven’t pushed themselves as hard as they can go until they get to the end of the race and still have some left in the tank. Part of the reason people hold back is because many athletes find themselves “risk averse” and opt to play it safe versus risking the possibility of pushing so hard that they don’t finish where they want to. If you’re trying to figure out the balance you might try asking yourself during the race, “Can I give 1% more?” That way you’re playing with where the line is, but not necessarily pushing too far past it. The more you race and try out different strategies, the more you will learn how you operate and figure out what the best strategy is for you.
Challenge yourself this season and re-define your HARD. I promise you, you have more in you.