Friday, December 14, 2012

A theory of action in endurance sport.

NB: nothing which follows should be construed as metaphysical truth.

Lately I have started working more on technique in my training. It's something that I have been neglecting and gotten away with for a long time. Similarly, I used to ignore training at all! I would just go about my usual day to day activities and gut it out on race days. Surprisingly it worked okay and I got away with it for a long time. I ran my first marathon with zero training. I managed 3rd place in my first 24 hour mountain bike race with only two mountain bike rides under me...ever.

Attempting to ski Arrowhead though taught me that I can only expect to get so far on natural talent. I had to start training on a regular basis. Just putting in the time has gotten me a long way (literally). I managed to ski and walk Arrowhead and run the Superior 100, but I have pretty much reached the limit without changing something in the way I run/bike/ski.

That something I am now changing is technique. I am starting to study more closely, listen to my body, and try new things. It is easy to say “keep your hips forward” and another to find out what that means. To that end I am reading and trying out some methods from books and taking yoga classes. I would like to learn from a teacher, especially when it comes to skiing, but that doesn't seem to be a possibility at present. The one person nearby whose skill I respect is not willing to teach and all classes are prohibitively far away.

As it is I think I have made some minor breakthroughs in running and skiing, mostly involving posture and lean.

It is tough to back off on the physical training though and focus on technique. It is hard not to go all out and believe that soreness is the only indicator of progress, but I know better. The way I see it there are three aspects to endurance sports, and maybe life in general: Body, Mind, and Spirit. (Now don't freak out, spirit isn't something supernatural in this case. It's just a way of talking about something which we all understand.)

  • Body is the physical part. It is muscular strength. It is what is trained by lifting or running (I have no intention of going into the strength vs. conditioning argument here. Suffice to say both are covered by “body”).
  • Mind is technique and planning. It is what we think about. It is consciously paying attention to what we are doing and how we are feeling and making changes to it.
  • Spirit is willpower and determination. It is not stopping when things get tough. It is our attitude.

Now of course we need all three to do anything, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses. And we can compensate for a lack in one by strength in the others. My forte to begin with was spirit (if I do say so myself). I could keep going even with terrible pain, blisters, etc.. By incorporating some training of the body I managed to improve, a lot, but I am not an incredible physical specimen and likely never will be. I continue to improve here, but gains are likely to be gradual. My weakest third is the mind.

I have rarely paid attention to how I am doing what I am doing. Instead of listening to my body when it tells me it isn't working I fall back on spirit and ignore the pain. Nor do I do a good job of planning either in training or in racing. Not a good long term strategy even if it has gotten me a long way. Now, hopefully, with some mindful training I will be able to improve yet again.

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