Week 7

Making the endurance athlete

Endurance

  • What does it really mean to “go long”?
  • Have you ever said, or had someone say to you, “I couldn’t do that”, in relation to a 200km bike ride?
  • Have you ever doubted yourself about accomplishing something big and scary?
  • Have you put off entering an event for fear of failure or maybe because you are just not sure how to get it done?
  • What do endurance athletes possess that others don’t?

I personally believe it is a desire to find out what you can do and what happens when you push yourself further than ever before. Like I mentioned above, some people will question if they could do what you have just done. I prefer to ask them if they want to do it? We can do anything, but you have to want it.

“We are born with a body that can cope with almost anything, it’s our minds we have to convince.”

What makes an endurance athlete?

To be an endurance athlete (or to ‘go long’) we must first be willing to go longer and further than those around us. It can feel like a lonely place – it’s no social ride to the coffee shop and back. Instead, it is a journey that takes you beyond what you know and trust. You meet the real you, the one that wants to be challenged but also wants to finish so the pain will stop. 

Every endurance athlete I have ever met has one thing in common – an almost addictive desire to find something bigger, more amazing and more challenging that the last one.

I have a belief that those who sign up for the challenge know that out of the adversity, the pain and the suffering comes growth. That growth creates meaning and purpose and also expands into other areas of life. Nothing is ever impossible again.

It is a feeling of bliss when you’re pushed to your limits, to breaking point and come out of the other side a stronger person. Those who go long, those who choose to endure do so because the reward will shine brighter than any polished trophy.

And thankfully, once you start the journey, you will find there are in fact many many others just like you – the endurance athlete.

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Mind

Some people will say you are born with the desire to push your limits for longer, that you are given the gift to endure. Is it nature or nurture? No matter the answer, it is the athlete’s mindset that allows the decision to be uncomfortable.

Most of us can handle a short period of this during a 30 minute gym session, knowing full well that it will be over soon and we can get back to the the couch.

Once any athlete or aspiring person relinquishes some control and accepts they are in it for the long haul, that is when the mind can start to work for you. It turns the unknown into a piece of meditative escapism from life – no longer are you fighting the fear of a long workout or bike ride. 

Instead of resisting, you’ll learn that the pain and suffering lets you know you’re on the right track. You know get to focus on some simple processes and checklists, to keep your body doing its job. Eat, drink, stay engaged, maintain good form, think good thoughts, take action, move forward, ride the highs, ride the lows. Time passes and thoughts come and go, your primary goal is to keep progressing forward and how you do that is now up to you and your most basic instincts.

The mind controls the engine room, the longer you go the more important the role it has:
  • Be willing to relinquish some control to the unknown
  • Embrace the challenge of engaging your mind into an action state
  • Feed your mind the best case scenario knowing you have already worked out the worst
  • Greet the pain and suffering as a friend you were expecting to meet along the way, thank it
  • Let go of your fears and just take the step forward into the action phase
  • Keep fueling the mind, to think you need fuel, if you get brain fade feed it!
  • Create cue points and mantras, rotate through these to keep mind aligned with your body and actions
  • Welcome the bad times, for on the flip side there are awesome times of clarity

Body

Invest in a body that is strong, able to withstand a long period of hard work and can recover well. Even during an endurance event there are opportunities for micro rests and utilising your efficiencies to fatigue later.

A body that can ride the roller coaster of pain can accept feedback and respond with action instead of stopping. For example, a sore knee that is linked with a weaker left glute will require you to focus on using it and instantly you’ll feel that knee pain subside. Body awareness takes investment in time.

You need to link an intimate knowledge of self and be engaged in the process to respond correctly. One of the best ways to gain this expert knowledge is to ride more and to gain expert opinions from health professionals in the know. Prepare yourself with the tools to allow your body to ‘stay in the game’ – a long distance endurance athlete will very rarely go through an event pain free.

It’s an ongoing tug of war between the mind and body – telling you to slow down and stop, as opposed to changing position and refocusing on the correct technique.

Your aim to create the perfect endurance body is to:
  • Nail your technique so that functionality on the bike is second nature, pedaling for hours on end like you were born this way
  • Work on your musculoskeletal imbalances and be aware of the cues that bring them back in-line
  • Be aware that the mind will try to protect the body well before you reach breaking point
  • Strengthen all weak points with preventative strength and core work, including stretches
  • Ensure you have a near perfect bike fit, with saddle, hand and cleat positions working to align you correctly on the bike
  • Ride the pain wave, and learn to respond with action

Nutrition

The thing I fear most about endurance events is nutrition. The very thing that is the essence of life – the joy of eating good food – soon becomes more of a chore and can even make you feel ill.

When you are tired, mentally fatigued or feeling uneasy it can be a very challenging to eat and drink, especially a sweet energy bar, gel or electrolyte drink. It all just seems like too much and I along with many others have made the mistake of avoiding food and drink because of this. 

Our body can store up to two hours of energy in the form of glycogen in our muscles and liver for use without re-fueling. Our energy system will then rely on converting fat and muscle into glycogen, but it’s a process that takes time and extra resources.

When you have bonked (run out of energy), you will notice you can keep going but only slowly (a typical 30km/h average becomes 20-22 km/h) while your body is converting your fuel sources to usable energy. You can crawl home but it is not efficient and your recovery post-event will be longer. In endurance events real food is ideal.

My rule of thumb for endurance riding

For a ride less than 100km you can get away with gels, a bar or two and maybe a peanut butter sandwich. I would use the recommended solution of carbs and electrolyte mix, not weaken it down.

100 – 200 km rides require just one gel for emergency. Normal solution for electrolyte/carb mix in drinks is ok. More real food and a mix of savory and sweet snacks.

200km + rides will need one gel as emergency only. A weaker solution of drink mix. More real food and a mix of savory and sweet snacks. Utilise shorter stops to get off the bike and ingest food properly. This might include stopping at a bakery for a vegetable pastie with tomato sauce, or something that will really satisfies you without overdoing it.

Remember
  • Eat before you’re hungry
  • Drink before you’re thirsty
  • Endurance events require regular food and drink delivered throughout the event to fuel your body

The non tangibles – the essence of ‘enduring’

Enduring is a willingness to enter another realm. Even your first 100km event will take you to a higher place of self esteem. There is nothing quite like getting from A to B over a period of time that often equates to a day at work, knowing you did it by yourself.

We should search for opportunities for escapism. To get lost in the simple action of survival – consistent and persistent effort over a longer period of time. Endurance events on a micro level are a reflection of a life lived, with highs and lows. Facing up to hard work that no one else will do for us. We must get there with our own steam and drive.

Endurance events teach us:
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility – doing life on the fly and being ready to adjust plans
  • To be capable of much more than we allow ourselves
  • Our bodies are stronger than we know. It’s our minds we have to convince
  • Through suffering comes enlightenment
  • To ride emotional highs and lows. Like life, they come and go and are often not a reflection of the reality of our situation. They are just emotions and we can choose how to respond.
  • To create great strength and we all need this in our lives

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” Theodore Roosevelt

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