When gearing up for an Ironman, its hard enough to keep your friends and family's opinions out of your decision making; "You never come out any more", "You don't have time for us", "I like fat Brett better". To add to that, if you want to get faster, there is this evil little voice that has even more power over you, and its in your own head. Keeping that voice silent, or at least muffled, is a great feat, and not very easy.
The voice comes from not having confidence in your ability. First, let me say that everyone has their goal for racing, and it may not be to be fast, but to just finish, and that is a great accomplishment. My point today is for those trying to break boundaries in their training, pushing past exhaustion and into uncharted territory. The little voice/devil wispering is the biggest detriment to training and everyone has to deal with it no matter what level they train at. The voice is constantly telling you to "let up" or "slow down" because it doesn't think your body can handle it. This isn't some ghost following you, it is your own mind because you haven't pushed your body hard enough to know what it can do.
Unfortunately for me, I'm heading into an Ironman, and I've never gone that fast for that long in my life. I have a bunch of 70.3's under my belt, so that gives me some confidence in my abilities, but trying to mentally prepare myself for 10 hours of screaming back at this voice has created some self doubt as I'm sure many Ironman rookies have faced.
Running today I started to strategize how to beat the voice. Riding a brutal 100 miles yesterday, I figured my legs would be a little tired, so my running adventure would be to keep my marathon pace for 12 miles with no nutrition. Strapping on my Garmin with heart rate monitor I was out the door. Cruising through Golden Gate Park to the Great Highway (downhill) it was easy to keep pace. Clipping along I was feeling great, even with a headwind at the beach. At the turn and coming back, still felt good, but with 4 miles left, the voice hit hard and I could feel my body start to fight itself to keep pace. I felt fine, but with nutrition depleting, your head plays funny games with itself. My pace fell and I switched to heart rate mode and it was well below where I thought it would be for my pace. With this knowledge I fought back and brought my pace back up. The uphill back home was a constant struggle to tell myself I could keep the pace constant by keeping a keen eye on my heart rate. Even with the voice screaming to pull back, I knew my HR was well below exhaustion. Hitting my second half split back home, I pulled in negative 2 minutes.
The one thing I try to keep in mind is my threshold level on the run. Your HR threshold is the only limit to getting to your running PR. While there is a limit to how long and how close you can come to it, a good strategy for your running race is managing this level. I know mine is around 175 bpm. Anywhere near that and my body starts to collapse and my stride fails. For every distance you can find a recommended percentage of that number, but everyone should find their threshold number before arbitrarily deciding what it is. The 220 minus age is not legitimate. People's body's are different. The way I found mine is hill repeats. Find an extended hill of about a half mile and start to find yours!
A good way to go about this is with a Heart Rate monitor and a good warmup. Many peoples' HR's will go crazy for the first 10 minutes, so nice and fluid before starting your monitor. Start the set with a strong effort the first hill, but hold back so you can see how your body responds to the first one or two. After that, continuously push yourself faster up the hill. At threshold, you should have to breath in for a step and exhale a step. My hill 5 of six created my fastest split and highest HR the last test I performed. This repetition had me exceed threshold though, and nearly hyperventilate by the top of the hill as I couldn't keep up my breathing, but success! I found my limit!
Knowing your limits and pushing them higher is the only way to create a breakthough performance. If you are looking to get to that next level, as always, temporary pain and suffering is the easiest way to get there.
This is not a one time thing either. As you improve, your threshold increases. The body is great at adapting to increased stress, improving circulation, and growing stonger. Your limit a month ago, may not be the same as today so make sure to keep in touch with where your body is to get the most out of your performaces.