Stuck in a performance plateau

To my disappointment, my fitness and performance indicators plateaued in April. Between April and July, I struggled to improve. I was still enjoying training, but I felt adrift. Becoming overly concerned with losing weight, I ended up under-eating and making my workouts more difficult because I didn’t have enough energy. I became chronically fatigued, physically drained, mentally depleted, and never felt fully recovered. I learned that these were symptoms of overtraining. Shortly thereafter I got sick and couldn’t train for a couple of weeks. Despite my best efforts, I was forced to take the break that I needed.

In addition, the COVID situation was improving and I began traveling for work again. I was on the road almost every week which was a welcomed change. Doing my workouts was not an issue at all. I ran on the street or in the hotel gym. If I drove I would bring my bike, otherwise, I used the hotel’s stationary bikes. My struggle was in choosing quality food that supported fueling for my workouts.  Old eating habits quickly returned when I entered the airport. I felt like Pavlov’s dog, immediately developing cravings for chips, burgers, and drinks. Having spent a year at home and not worrying about eating out I became very comfortable. I didn’t anticipate how difficult that aspect of travel would be. After realizing what was happening I paid closer attention to what I ate. Allowing old habits to take root was going to happen. Obstacles appear, adjustments are made and training continues.

Retest => Anxiety

Having endured significant ups and downs I was anxious about doing another round of performance tests. They are on my training schedule every eight weeks, but I pushed these back several times because I was unwilling to do them. When I train, I always want my pace to be faster. I know that Johnny doesn’t arbitrarily set them, they come from testing. So, the only way my zones will improve is through the execution of my training every day and then regular testing. The improved fitness leads to better test results. The logic couldn’t be more straightforward. On paper, the plan is easy, but in real life, emotions dilute actions.

I don’t enjoy feeling disappointed which is what happens when I don’t improve during the testing. When that occurs all the shit that I told myself while training becomes meaningless. The bullshit excuses are revealed and I have to be accountable. Why weren’t my actions aligned with my goals? Not only do I have to answer to myself, but I also have to tell Johnny why I didn’t progress. He cuts through the bullshit quickly, so I’ve learned to just be open and frank. He also needs to know so that he can adjust the training program to fit what’s occurring in my life.  I must do my part of the partnership to make that happen.

Doing it anyway

This week was a recovery week and testing was “suggested”. I couldn’t find a valid reason to postpone things any longer, so I scheduled the run and bike assessments. First up would be the run test on Tuesday morning. Beginning on Sunday I doubled up on my carbs to ensure adequate glycogen reserves. Bonking out at the tail end of the test is a regular occurrence for me. I wanted to prevent that from happening again.

As soon as I began warming up on the treadmill my heart rate spiked. Without fail, my mind immediately begins creating doubt and uncertainty. What I’ve determined is that I have to decide before and throughout the assessment that I’m going for broke. Constantly reminding myself that the discomfort is temporary and is absolutely more tolerable than my mind wants me to believe. Continue turning your legs over. To get faster, you must run faster.

While running I focused on keeping a high cadence, elongated body position, and staying light on my feet. The focal points are great in concept, but very difficult to maintain at the moment. When shit begins to get intense and my mind begins sending the “stop this shit” signal, remaining focused is even more important, but much more difficult. Johnny’s occasional words of encouragement are like booster shots of adrenaline and confidence wrapped into one. They keep me going a little bit longer.

This time, I didn’t look at the pace so I never knew how fast I was running. Knowing my speed would only break my concentration. Either I would be disappointed in how hard it was to run a pace slower than I desired, or I would see a pace that was faster than I expected, become hesitant and begin telling myself that I couldn’t sustain it. Either scenario creates a mindset that works against me. My goal was to focus on pushing as hard as I can during the test. Period.

Boom πŸ’₯ -πŸƒπŸΌ Gainz !

As the table below shows, I did achieve some modest gains in a few key metrics.

  1. My lactate threshold increased by close to 1 mph. This is the “base” building that I’ve been working on for the last 18 months. The goal is to improve my ability to sustain a higher speed without pushing my body to work extra hard and burn tons of fuel. Muscle and metabolic efficiency are how I think about it. So, all the improvements in this measure are meaningful to me.
  2. The bottom of the table shows predicted changes in race times. All of the changes were improvements in finishing times –
    1. 5k, 73 seconds faster
    2. 10K, 4 minutes faster
    3. half marathon, 12 minutes faster
    4. marathon, 33 minutes faster!

I pushed hard today and as a result my previous zone 4 pace is now zone 2.  Those are the gains I love to see.

Friday – the bike test πŸš΄πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ

After putting a pause on training for three days, I’m more than ready to knock out the bike assessment then go to the lake for an open water swim and a 1 hr easy run after that.

Per the normal routine, the first 20 minutes are easy riding to warm my legs up. Then we calibrate the power meters and begin. I was excited. Ever since my breakthrough with the A-Group a few months ago, I’ve been much more willing to push through the pain because I know that my legs can take much more and keep going. Like the run test, I disabled the power readout so that I could remain focused on the ride. I kept my thoughts on maintaining a cadence of 80, deep diaphragmatic breathing, and staying in the aero position.

I pushed and pedaled, keeping my mind occupied by imagining that I was in a race. I was in the front of a pack heading towards the finish line. Letting up was not an option, I needed to push harder for a little bit longer. 

The tables below summarize of some of the key metrics from the session.

The mind games worked! I achieved new performance bests! I could see the joy on Johnny’s face as I was cooling down and he was crunching the numbers.

I spent the evening in the lake swimming about a mile and then relaxing with the triathlon club members discussing.