Learn To Hurt

The whistle blows and the coach yells, “On the line!”  Every ice hockey player comes to dread these three words.  When I mean dread, I mean nightmares and constant thoughts of pain and misery.  I was an ice hockey player my entire life up until 6 years ago.  I gave my life to the sport.  From the age of 5 through my teenage years and up into the professional ranks I lived ice hockey.  These three words meant get on the goal line and do sprints of varying length anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half.  The coach had no worries about our nutrition or our fatigue.  We would have 6 water bottles to suffice the entire team and the whistle would blow until our time on the ice was up.  No warm up or cool down, no heart rate or wattage checks.  We would just go.  Guys would puke and keep going.  This would happen day after day, year after year .

I turned professional after dabbling in the sport of triathlon for 4 years.  Actually I dabbled for 3 years, then took it serious the fourth year and turned pro.  A lot of athletes ask, “Jim, how did you make such gains so quickly?”  I believe these gains came from the years of “abuse” I took while an ice hockey player.  It was ingrained in my head to push my body to the next level.  I couldn’t say to the coach, “I can’t go, I am fatigued,” or “sorry coach my heart rate is high today.”  I would have gotten a swift kick in the butt and my teammates would have disowned me.  We practiced the way we played.  In triathlete terms it would be put, VO2 max interval on top of VO2 max interval on top of VO2 max interval for an hour.  This is unheard of in triathlon.  In ice hockey this is called an average day.  Like I said, whether we were in a game or practice, the most nutrition you’d have is a squirt of water here or there.  Now think of you’re VO2 max workouts.  How many gels/sports drinks/etc. do you have?  I am sure it’s more than a squirt of water.

So, when I came to triathlon, I just assumed the way I played/practiced ice hockey was the way triathletes trained.  I would get on my trainer and push the limit interval after interval for hours on end.  I didn’t have a computer or a heart rate monitor and I didn’t even know what a power meter was.  I just went hard!

This was something that was ingrained in my psyche.  I did not know any other way.  After being in the sport for some time now, I find myself becoming a slave to numbers at certain times and I need to remember what got me to where I am at.  I am not saying that numbers are not beneficial.  I use them all of the time.  Watts, heart rate, cadence, etc.  I am saying we can’t be a slave to our devices.  Sometimes we need to put everything away and just go hard.  This is something you must learn.  You can’t just show up on race day and say, “I am going to go hard.”  You have to know what hard feels like, and what it feels like to push YOUR limits with no outside distraction, i.e. devices.

Using another example from Stage 19 of The Tour de France, Cadel Evans knew he had to dig deep in order to catch Andy Shleck and Alberto Contador going up Alpe-D’Huez, so he pulled himself inside out to do it.  The focus and determination Cadel demonstrated was that of a man possessed.  Cadel was not checking his heart rate or his wattage, he didn’t care about his speed or his cadence; he had his eyes focused on the road, his teeth clenched, and his mind thinking one thing, “Push Harder!”

Cadel knew what he had to do, and he knew how to do it.  Test yourself while training.  Put everything away except for your bike, your trainer, and a stop watch.  Get on, warm up, then proceed to do 5×5 minutes (5 minutes recovery between each) with the sole goal of pushing your limit the entire time.  It will hurt, but if you do it enough, you will learn to accept the pain (maybe even like it), and your gains will be astronomical.  Then, on race day, you can say, “I am going to go hard,” and know what that is going to feel like.  Good luck.  RACE HARD!

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