With the Great British Weather placing outdoor training firmly on the backburner, it’s been a fortnight confined to barracks for the girls this month which has meant plenty of gym triathlons as they settle into training across three disciplines.
Sensing a gentle comfort blanket descending over these sessions, I suggested a 30km bike instead as we headed to the gym one evening.
“Thirty kilometres?” Giovanna looked at me like I’d suggested walking to the moon. Erica and Anya just looked pale. None had ever done more than 10kms on the bikes until this point.
But a little fear was good – it’s a great motivator, and a natural byproduct of pushing your boundaries. With the bike leg at Alpe d’Huez being 30km, and with it also topping the ‘scary’ list for the whole team, I hoped that bagging the distance now would help break that fear down. I was confident they could all do it, but not certain and it was a concerned foursome that headed into the gym.
With the stress on making the distance rather than speed or power, a happily spinning trio sailed past five kilometres and easily onto ten. But when I returned at 15, the smiles were gone, the chat down to the occasional grunt and the sweat was rising – natural competition meant they were all sneaking peaks at each other’s odometers mindful not to let anyone pull too far ahead.
By 25km they were hauling the pedals hard, dripping in sweat and looking shattered but none were giving up, and soon after, in swift succession they all racked up the 30km milestone.
High fives went round and as they cooled down broad grins spread across exhausted faces.
“I can’t believe we made it,” said Erica as the three of them walked, rubber-legged towards the changing rooms. “Counting got me through that,” she added, “like they do in the military when they run and chant a count to keep pace”.
Turns out the other two were doing their own versions of the same thing – it must have been catching, and for good reason. Music, counting, daydreaming, all of these things take your mind off the tiredness and the messages coming at you from your brain to stop. If you can temporarily ignore these signals you can break through to a new level, gradually raising the threshold where your natural mental defences kick in as you do.
Which is exactly what the team had done in this session, and in the process they’d shrunk the looming spectre of the long bike leg in the race to a more palatable level. A great confidence booster. Now all they need to do is repeat the distance, uphill…
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