Learning curve

Nik Cook is reading, learning, making mistakes but getting the odd thing right in his pursuit of Powerman happiness

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Since retiring from a not particularly illustrious rugby career, I’ve been at this endurance game for a good twelve years and, although I’ve ticked a lot of boxes, I’m continually seeking inspiration and knowledge. And two books have really done it for me recently.
 
The first most of you have probably read and is Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography A Life Without Limits. I loved the honesty of it but especially liked her no nonsense approach to both kit and training.
 
The second is Dr Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox. He’s the sports psychiatrist behind British Cycling and the man that Dave Brailsford has credited with much of the team’s success. In his model we all have a chimp inside of us who’s responsible for most of those irrational doubts, fears and worries. It’s not a bad chimp, it’s just a chimp and is responsible for keeping us alive on a basic evolutionary level and dealing with fight or flight situations. Peters suggests strategies for learning to manage your chimp and the applications for racing and training are obvious.
 
I also like to learn from top athletes and I was lucky enough to go out to the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. The main lesson I took is how chilled and methodical they are. They’re confident in their training, kit and race plan and have done everything they can to ensure an optimum race. Foundations for this calm have been laid months ago with solid training and race day experience. Yes, it’s their job but the amount of energy you see some age-groupers wasting, fretting, tinkering and seeking last minute fixes, even on race morning, is staggering. If you haven’t done the miles, you can’t buy race day smiles.
 
My own acts of occasional stupidity never fail to amaze me. We had a heavy snowfall the other week and, like a child, I gleefully trotted up onto the hills with an equally infantile friend for what was supposed to be a run but turned into an hour of drift diving. I managed to put my back out. The lesson wasn’t not to prat around in snow, I’ll never learn that, but a previous one. As soon as I had the problem, I didn’t waste time trying to self-diagnose on the ‘net, mope around or self-treat, I went straight to my sports massage therapist and, rather than losing a couple of weeks of training, only lost a couple of days.
 
It’s not all been learning and theory, though. Training for Powerman Zofingen in September has been going well. My big stepping stone goal is the HellRider Adventure Duathlon at the beginning of June. Eight hours of alternating trail running and mountain bike laps should be a good fitness indicator. I managed a “Half HellRider” yesterday and I reckon my run and bike loops, each containing over 1,000ft of climb, were tougher than the race route. I felt great for the four hours, fueling was spot on, splits were consistent and I definitely could’ve plugged on.
 
I’ll do a six hour session in a couple of weeks and, if that goes well, I’ll hit the race with a Zen-like state of calm confidence… maybe.

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For more information on the Powerman series of races, head to www.powerman.org.