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Race Season, The Zones (Comfort, Stretch and PANIC!)

It has been a little while since we last pushed a blog piece out. That isn’t because we have been lax, it’s because we are simply flat out! Race season is well and truly upon us now and our athletes seem to be racing every weekend at opposite ends of the country. We always try to attend races and support our athletes where we can but sometimes it is impossible! Add to that our own personal training, which often takes a back seat when it gets busy, and time soon slips away. So, this blog piece comes as much from me as an athlete going through the same trials and tribulations as anyone training for triathlon as it does from me as a coach trying to keep the wheels turning.

I was recently fortunate to spend a morning with one of Britain’s most successful Olympians of our era. Not only was he very engaging he also gave an insight into the dedication and mindset it takes to operate and compete at the highest level. I have always said that I would happily dedicate my life to professional level sport, any sport, so long as it was the top flight. The glossy front that we see is in stark contrast to the reality that this Olympian portrayed.

First and foremost, it is a job. Even if it starts out as a hobby, it becomes one and full-time at that. For all the effort that you put into your professional careers, whether you are a doctor, lawyer, whatever it is, you can be sure that these athletes are putting in more effort, more time and are more driven towards their sport. This person was fortunate to still love his job after 15 years and three Olympics. That’s getting up at 0600 everyday of the year (including Christmas) to be in the gym and somewhere in the region of 3500 training sessions a year, mostly doing the same repetitive stuff, day in day out, all without the guarantee of actually being selected in the final 6 months of a four-year cycle.

One of the key things I took away from my time with him was a concept about comfort, stretch and panic zones. It was something he had picked up from a mountaineer and I have tried (probably rather poorly) to replicate and share with you. It is a concept that is so simple, all of us have probably been doing it subconsciously anyway.

It starts with a goal – we like those! Then that goal needs to be pushed or ‘stretched’ a little in order to give yourself something to commit to. For him, his coach gave him the stretched goal of six seconds faster than World Record pace. SIX SECONDS!! At that end of the sport that was huge but nevertheless, he committed to it. Whenever things got tough, that is what he came back to. That goal was set on his first training day after taking Gold medal in Beijing. He broke the World Record in London 2012 to take Gold again. The record still stands.

Anyway, back to comfort, stretch and panic zones………………..

Each of us has elements of training and triathlon in our comfort zone. We never need to leave this zone but by doing this, we will never improve. In fact, our comfort zone will shrink around us. Surrounding the comfort zone is the ‘stretch’ zone. These are the things that challenge us. The more we challenge ourselves and attempt the things in the stretch zone then the bigger the comfort zone gets until it consumes that challenging thing. It also then pushes the ‘panic’ zone further away. The panic zone contains things that really mess us up, mentally or physically. We shouldn’t really be doing them much but its good to push ourselves occasionally. Besides, the bigger our comfort zone becomes, the closer the panic items get to our now enlarged stretch zone and therefore become less of a big deal.

Now, its all very well saying ‘right, I’m just going to constantly bash out a load of stuff in the stretch and panic zones’. The system is all connected to your giant battery cell of energy and every now and then it needs to be recharged. If you go into the panic zone, then the battery will deplete very quickly. Call it burning a match if you want. We like matches, we talk about burning them all the time. Sooner or later though the box will be empty. The only way to recharge the battery or buy more matches is by going back to your comfort zone. I’ve put together a picture with a few examples to try and explain it – this absolutely can be applied to your own training and I intend to put a big version of it on my wall for next season to help me get better and allow me to target specific things.

Clear as mud?

So that’s me as a coach trying to pass something on. Me as an athlete is approaching taper week and it is both way too close for comfort but agonisingly far away because I am taking a battering in training and need a rest! You can tell what phase of training our household is in quite easily by the state of the place. At the moment there is laundry everywhere, I don’t just mean in a pile in the corner I mean EVERYWHERE and in every room. We recently purchased a third laundry basket to try and stem the problem but its generally not the stuff waiting to be washed that is the issue. It’s the clean stuff needing to be dried or put away.

My wife is brilliant and incredibly supportive. If I need to go somewhere to train she gives me the encouragement to do it. If I want to spend £LOTS on some bit of obscure kit that will save me 40secs then she doesn’t complain about the sacrifices we have to make. Our division of labour is pretty even, she feeds me most of the time, keeps the house clean etc. I do the blue jobs like bike maintenance, lawn mowing. We both pitch in with laundry (not the putting away though – no one does that!) and we both try and do the boring life admin stuff. She has recently returned to training and the cumulative effect of my final peak phase has been all consuming, we are clinging onto real life by our finger tips!

I have done a few recce trips to the IM UK course that I will be racing next month and it is brutal. My most recent trip left me questioning my ability, my desire and general out look on triathlon. I should say that the weekend went very well but still I came away praying that everyone else is suffering on the bike as much and I am not just being a wimp.

There is simply no respite. The shift in mindset from competing for a time to just accepting its going to take way longer than I would ever think is a hard one but crucial. My advice to anyone else racing is just to let the hills come to them, if you attack the inclines then the payback on the run will be crippling.

I have been so focused on the end game of my forthcoming Ironman that I kinda didn’t realise how close it was getting. I tell all my athletes that they should have a post IM plan to avoid the IM Blues and yet I haven’t heeded my own advice. However, the week after my IM is looking pretty busy – we are moving to a new house. I have given this absolutely no thought whatsoever yet and shall basically be hoping that the fairies pack our house up for us. So, if you see me clapping my hands on the finishing carpet its because, like Peter Pan, I believe in them! We are not just moving house, we are both moving jobs and to a whole new county so we have a bucket list of ‘things to do before we move’. There are more things on it than we have days left so I don’t think those blues will be an issue this time.

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