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By Coach Stuart Hill
“If you want something you’ve never had, they you’ve got to do something you’ve never done”.
I had just finished my first ever 2 hour swimming squad. Managing to extricate myself from the pool, I’m now lying on the floor of the communal shower dizzy and nauseated. Gazing up I can see some of the other squad members squirting water at each other from their water bottles. They glance down and ask if I’m OK. Lying, I say yes. How could these kids be so strong? Would I be back next week?
Fast forward 30 years and I’ve just swum 10kms at Ultraman Australia. No dizziness or nausea as I exit the water. I run up the beach to my waiting bike feeling relaxed and in control. I can’t wait to navigate the Sunshine Coast Hinterland for the next 140kms on my TT bike. On paper it’s taken me 30 years to progress from the shower floor to Ultraman. In reality it has been a conscious and unconscious process of changing my perception of what normal actually is. Let me explain.
Our perception of ‘normal’ has significant impact on our performance, how we adapt to change and even the physical discomfort we feel during exercise. It can shift gradually (my current warm up was once my long run) or it can be sudden (anyone with kids can remember their birth marking a pre and post definition of normal!) The shift in perception can be painful or painless, voluntary or be forced upon us.
‘Normal’ is something we just do. Most importantly, it doesn’t require us to exert our limited willpower or decision-making energy to structure our day. Making the choice to return to the swim squad was hard, but 30 years later I barely need to think about it.
Understanding this can be used to our advantage, especially when it comes to improving sporting performance. Triathlon is a good lens through which to see this process, although it applies equally to work and your wider life.
Your coach may have mentioned progressive overload and seasonal progression. Every Tzero program is built on those principles.
Your short- and long-term development in triathlon rely on them. Graduated progression is the underlying physical and mental adaptation occurring during the years it takes to become a complete endurance athlete. Chop wood, carry water, listen to your coach and that 25km long run will soon seem short.
There’s another method: purposefully deciding to adopt a new normal and letting your perception catch up. In effect, this is using willpower to do something for long enough that it becomes ‘normal’.
This doesn’t mean doubling your training load overnight. Your mind cannot overcome the reality of your physiology. You should also consider any impact on your family, work and wellbeing. Ultraman definitely touches those three!
It does mean committing to change sensibly, sustainable aspects of your life permanently. Good examples include what you eat for breakfast, the time you wake up and your adherence to your coach’s plan.
It might also involve changing how you see yourself. A self-fulfilling prophecy is to label yourself as “just a sprint distance triathlete” or “not built for Ironman”. The stoic philosopher Epictitus understood the power of consciously choosing your identity: “First say to yourself what you would be, then do what you have to do”.
Combining both methods - steady progression and conscious step-change - is an unbeatable path to progress. Think realistically and honestly how you can implement both in your life.
Cheers - Stu
Learn more about Coach Stu HERE
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