The Highs and Lows of Endurance Training

One of the most important things I’ve realized over the years of training and racing is this: there are no excuses in endurance sports. Unless a car hits you in the middle of a race, or a bird snatches you up and carries you to the line, everything your body produces is a result of your efforts over time. This is why endurance sports can bring such euphoric highs and dreary lows – your performance relies on your efforts. When you do well, it’s the best validation of your work, but if you disappoint yourself it can be a humbling realization that you could have done better.

Endurance fitness comes down to mastering three things: training, rest, and nutrition. The mental challenges that endurance sports present are just as daunting as a rigorous training schedule or new nutritional plan, and mental toughness plays a massive role in doing all three of those well.

Your mind is what gets you out of bed – or hits the snooze button – makes you push through that last mile, tells you to turn around at the base of a climb after an interval and go again, and provides you the confidence you need to put yourself on a starting line with others. A major part of training consists of working yourself through the lows, or as four-time Olympic medalist Michael Johnson calls it, “Slaying the Dragon.”

My physical and mental abilities seem to directly coincide with each other. Meaning, that when I’m feeling good about myself I normally do my best in intervals or train like a student obsessed with earning extra credit. But when I’m not feeling so hot, I can barely get out of bed. It’s a “chicken or the egg” conundrum that haunts me still. Am I riding well because I’m happy or am I happy because I am riding well? To deal with the lows, you must reflect inward.

Tell yourself, “Okay, something is wrong.” Then ask, “Do I need rest? Should I go out and do something fun to take my mind off it? Should I try and make some extra money to take the stress off? Do I need three six-hour days on the bike in a row? Am I eating enough?”

Often making a change to one of these variables will help you feel on track again. Because I consider myself a chronic over-trainer, I almost always need to take a day or two off and let my body recover. The other thing I normally have to do is assess some outside stressors that are affecting me, because any extra mental load outside of training will reduce my capability to put all of myself into a training day. Finally, when all else seems to fail, I look at my past training and pictures from my races, which allows me to step back and see the big picture, reminding me that as bad as I feel, nothing short term will be able to shake the long term work I’ve achieved.

This brings me back to the “highs.” Memories of self-achievement can be the best friends to have in a time of low motivation. I think back to days where I ground it out and produced amazing results, and sometimes that gets me out on my bike. My advice to you, when you hit a low point you need patience, to believe in yourself, and continue to work toward your goals.
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