We all know the quote from Jens Voigt right? Shut up Legs.

We know that the big German Diesel has an innate ability to persevere through pain. He has has forged a career on that ability; to go as deep into his well as possible for as long as possible.

And yesterday we saw a similar attitude at Ironman Australia.

Racing her first Ironman race, Mel Haushildt had to put herself into a new level of pain to take the victory. It was impressive to watch and Mel is a truly dominating athlete. In a post race interview, she was quoted as saying “whoever can tell their brain to shut up for the longest wins the race“. 

Even the best in their professions, go through pain. Even the best have to dig very deep.

The difference between them and 2nd (and everyone thereafter) is:

Who is willing to put up with the most pain.

Who is willing to endure more.

Who can switch their focus onto something other than how much it hurts and how bad they want to stop.

It’s the person that can do this better, for longer, than everyone else, that will be first to break the tape.

But this kind of attitude isn’t reserved for the very elite. It is one that everyone can (and should at some point) adopt in their mental dialogues.

This is a tough sport – regardless of how fast you want to go.

It is tough, and that toughness makes you question yourself throughout the day. It is like a little devil siting on your shoulder, just willing you to stop, teasing you into submission. Because it knows that giving up is easy.

It is easy to stop, right there and just not move.

It’s easy to miss sessions in favour of the couch, or eat crap food, or stay up late watching cat clips on the internet instead of getting proper sleep.

It’s easy to take the path of least resistance.

It’s just not very rewarding.

Like most things, that toughness doesn’t just rock up on race day, perfectly wrapped and awaiting your disposal. You have to develop it over time, in your training sessions, in your recovery, in your discipline, in everything you do.

It simply means that part of enduring the hurt on race day, is your daily preparation and ability to suffer – which is exacted in your training sessions..

It doesn’t come easy – the good stuff rarely does.

And it doesn’t come swiftly.

That’s why riding a Time Trial hurts if you don’t ride at that intensity very often. But, if positioned wisely throughout your training, you ride at that intensity for extended periods, then you begin to develop layers of “toughness”.

Keep applying those layers and when you turn up on race day you are in a much better position to tolerate the severity of what you intend to do.

That ability to continually ignore the hurt, and shut out the distraction of pain is as trainable as your heart and lungs. In fact, that ability is completely governed by your brain – as your brain  governs everything that the body does.

This has been extensively published by Professor Timothy Noakes and is changing how coaches, scientists and athletes approach endurance sports.

It is your brains ingrained knowledge of exactly how much intensity you can tolerate that limits your absolute potential.

You see, this is part of your basic wiring that exists to keep you alive; a survival mechanism. That ‘switch’ is there to protect you from doing too much damage to yourself.

When you push beyond what the brain calculates as your limit, it sends feedback to the body that it (the body as a whole) cannot tolerate this intensity and something must be done. Usually, in an Ironaman, this will begin with  reductions of speed/ or ability to hold a steady pace.

And, here is where you have to tell the brain to shut up. But be careful – it’s telling you for a reason. It’s telling you that pace you are trying to hold, is not sustainable, no matter how bad you want it to be.

Essentially, you aren’t going to win the battle – you are merely trying to delay the victory of your self-preservation. There’s a finish line ahead and if you can delay the brains requirements to slow you down, just long enough…awesome things can happen.

This is why, as the finish chute draws nearer, some athletes suddenly find the extra speed they were looking for. The brain now recognise that this battle is about to end so it recalculates the environment of your body and determines that you can run faster, and you will survive doing so.

This is also why proper pacing is such an important skill to develop.

If you go out too hard, too early, then you risk doing more damage than your body can handle over the duration of the race. Which essentially means as the day goes on, you will get slower, or at least slow down to a pace that the brain determines the body can handle (the long shuffle home). The body will simply stop responding to the demands.

You are trying to delay “that conversation”.

If it comes too early then things can get ugly. But, if you can hold off then you can find that little bit more fight in you. If you can keep tricking yourself into ignoring the pain, then you can keep going.

You are controlling the demands on the body by distracting the brain.

A really basic way to do this is the old “next light post” trick, or “next aid station” or whatever landmark you can fixate on – this is simply focused distraction. By concentrating on just getting to that point, you are ignoring the feedback that your brain is receiving, and you are pushing on. Most times, when you reach that aid station, you realise that you can actually keep going.

So when you are suffering through your big training sessions, looking for an out, or flirting with the idea of just giving up because it hurts, then remember that you have the ability to take control of that situation, and push yourself a bit more –  find a distraction to focus on. Trick your body into taking more.

Practising this in training ensures that you are able to tap into that ability when racing.

Coach Pete