Fighting Bulldogs – From Paris Island to the finish line.
Preparing to meet your Demons
With three months left before my Ironman event I find myself in daily conversation with two demons.
One is purely a conversation about dialing back; easing back or settling in on the pace and the other is pushing past wanting to stop or getting comfortable with pure endurance. As a multisport athlete I came into the sport with one perspective…push it to the finish or be disappointed with my performance.
I recently finished the Marine Corps Marathon in a respectable pace for me, but was unsatisfied because I did not meet my demon and push to empty. I dialed back to ensure I could finish vs finish with a demon seal of approval. My struggle right now specifically is failing to find the right gears while training and therefore I am falling short of optimal performance for the longer endurance race.
You’d think that understanding these demons would be enough to manage them to the ground but I have not yet found the secret yet. I come to racing as the Speed Demon who lives by the motto, “Go hard or go home.” For Speed Demon, training often becomes a race, even on recovery days when the aim is to go easy. Easy is truly a struggle for Speed Demon who detests doing “long slow distance.” When I started training with a heart rate monitor.. It took me a long time to understand why and or see the value of what my coach’s direction to keep my HR under the target.
My coach’s explanation for why dialing in an endurance pace and zone centers around the need to gain physiological changes like mitochondria (cellular factories for aerobic energy production) and capillary density in skeletal muscle, increasing stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped with each heart beat), improving aerobic capacity, effectively recruiting different muscle fiber types, improving coordination and efficiency of movement, developing the supporting structures (e.g. muscles, ligaments, tendons) needed to go fast, and building sport specific strength. Most of this was frankly techno babble to me at 1st but is slowly sinking in as I see the result of training to plan develop for me. My lack of initial understanding comes from being unfamiliar with an intelligent training plan designed specifically for me vs the downloaded version I’d used in the past.
My only past experience with a sustained training program was on Paris Island USMC boot camp. Similarly the focus there was also endurance.. After three months of endless cycles of platoon runs, push-ups, sit-ups, mountain climbers, pull ups as a way to address discipline, failure, success and just about any reason one could imagine.. there comes a point where the physical and psychological workload becomes routine. I still remember the moment when my DI realized that our platoon had reached this point. His ability to punish had been neutralized and we reached Physical Homeostasis. While barking a running battery of colorful curses he managed a smile and shared an understanding with us that we were prepared to meet our demons and his job was done.