Over-training and the pitfalls of it with regards to Endurance events
Recently and in the distant past I have come across a fair few English, and other Channel aspirants who, coming up to their year of opportunity to gain the coveted title of being a Channel swimmer, are getting very despondent with their efforts to achieve the heady heights of the Channel swimming club.
Having been in this game for 9 years now and with quite a few 25km plus swims under my belt, cycles up Britain and kayaks across Scotland, I have tried many methods to achieve these goals, thankfully successfully but for each one the journey is very different and I try to adopt different training strategies to find out what works best for ME. This is very important as each of us are very different and of varying competency, there is no one size fits all approach.
What I have to say is not the sole preserve of open water swimming but endurance events in general. I find the biggest pitfall to taking part in these events seems to be social media. Whilst I think Social media can be hugely beneficial, it also has its pitfalls. I for one have been there and was also very depressed during my Attempt to “join the club” I devoured blogs and videos and general information about other aspirants that were training for the same goal and very quickly realised that I was doing FAR less than others who were chasing the same goal. As the Words of the Baz Luhrmann song sunscreen “Do not ready beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.” spring to mind. Watching others who are hammering out 25 – 30km per week and with the pressures of life upon us all, it was clear to me that I was drastically under performing in the pool when it came to distances that others were doing. It made me very despondent at first and this resulted in a spiral of negativity for a while. I had MY Physical goals and were sticking to them but it was WAY off the mark when reading other swimmers blogs. Some chasing the channel goal and others chasing other swimming orientated goals
The next pitfall that I commonly see is the assumption that I need to do the distance – at all costs. “The harder I train, the better prepared I will be for the event” This is an admirable trait to have but, there is a common saying that any endurance event is 70% mental, 20% physical and 10% luck. We have no control over the 10% that is just LUCK. However, we are in control of the Physical side of things and, more importantly, the mental side of things. So why is it that we spend nearly 100% of our time focusing on what is effectively 20% of the challenge and most spend near 0% of their time and effort focusing on what is the vast proportion of the event?
In My opinion, this comes down to measurability of the training. It is far easier to gauge and measure your progress in the pool form a physical perspective. You can measure pace, endurance, speed, distance swum, heart rate, feeding. With modern technology all of the above can be logged and measured and charted and the progress can often be seen. Especially for those that are Spreadsheet orientated. All of this can be monitored very closely. The assumption being if I put the time in in the pool, rivers, lakes and oceans, I will be well prepared. But, at what cost? I will come to that later.
Now most people who have families and jobs and training and the like have very little time on their hands. Do this simple equation
Total week hours = 168 hours
Work (based on 50 hours per week) = 50 hours
Sleep (based on 7 Hours per night) = 49 hours
Travel to and from work (based on an hour each way) = 10 hours
House work (cooking, cleaning, admin, eating-2 hours per day) = 14 hours
Family time (2 hours per day – poor family) = 14 hours
25 km swimming a week (based on 3km per hour) = 9 hours
Total 146 hours
That only leaves 24 hours for EVERYTHING else in one’s life. The above list is by no means exhaustive and will vary wildly from person to person. So as you can see, our time is precious
For those in the Northern hemisphere, winters are often spent in indoor pools that are heated way above a comfortable training temperature. This can lead to boredom, overheating, loss of focus and more importantly loss of momentum. Granted, there are ways things to mix things up with cold water swimming but, unless you are a whale or seal, it is unlikely that you can put the distance in that you will read about on the interweb.
So if this distance stuff is so bad, what else can we do?
Simple, the mental side is 70% of this game so how do we focus on it? There are many answers to this. I will mention some shortly but NONE of these is measurable and very hard to gauge and as humans we like to be in control of things, but we cannot control or quantify mental training. I do not think there is one person out there who employs techniques to develop their mental capabilities that can categorically say that All their techniques worked and here is a spreadsheet to say how it did. But when asked if they could have achieved what they did without the mental training side, there is a categorical and resounding NO. The sad thing is, whilst this is , what I believe, and EXTREMELY important part of any training, for any goal. In my honest opinion, it is more important than the physical side – but that is only my opinion.
The following techniques are just a few of the ones I usually employ to mentally prepare myself.
1 – Do not Attempt anything. When talking about your goals, Always talk as if it is a forgone conclusion that you will succeed. What benefit does this have? Well, if your mind hears over and over again that you are going to SWIM to France instead of ATTEMPT to swim to France, it is being positively reinforced every time you mention it. Your mind, also starts to realise that there is no get out card so starts to prepare itself for the inevitable. One saying I live by is,
“what the mind conceives the body will achieve.”
2 – Visualisation. Nearly every professional and some non professional athletes adopt this. So how does it work? I can only tell you how I do it. In my head I have a Giant cinema screen – 3D IMAX with Dolby surround sound 5.1. What plays on that screen I am in total control of. I was lucky enough at the time of my Channel swim to spend 20 min on a train every day. I did not read but I shut my eyes and turned on my Cinema screen. For my Channel swim, That 20 min was crucial. Two things in my movie never changed. First the start, that was the same, second was me walking onto a beach in France after 12 hours. What did change was the body of the movie, I experienced in my mind’s eye, every conceivable challenge that could be thrown at me from rough seas to being mauled by seals and everything in between so by the time I actually swam to France, I had already swum it a couple of hundred times. Was my movie in my head correct, NO. I had to clamber over rocks to get to the finish at the foot of a cliff but I got to France.
3 – My army of minions. A common question posed to me about a marathon swim or event is. “What do you think about for 12 hours plus?” Easy, firstly that every stroke I take is as good as it can get. Secondly, in my mind, I have my army of minions that can be deployed to any part of my body that is experiencing problems, fatigue, pain, muscle spasms, anything my body throws at me is dealt with by my army that floats around my body with every conceivable remedy to cure anything from muscle aches to lactic acid build up in my muscles. In my head, and using my imagination, they can solve anything. I am constantly talking to myself, verbalising every function that these minions do. Effectively my body is constantly being fixed and massaged as I swim. To the extent that in my head, Individual muscle fibres can be replaced at will. Remember:-
“what the mind conceives the body will achieve.”
4 – Focus on the mundane. MANTRAS. In my case there are two I use. First one is “every day in every way I am more and more successful”. The second one is “Every day in every way I am happier, healthier and fitter”. These are often used as I am drifting off to sleep at night and in the shower or bath or, oddly, on the loo. Basically at times when my Mind is slowing down its rhythms and I am entering what is known as REM or rapid Eye movement. This is now scientifically proven to be the best state to be able to subconsciously manipulate your mind.
So For all who know me, I may not be a big distance swimmer while in training but due to the time I spend mentally preparing myself, I have continued to stretch my mentally imposed boundaries all the time with success. I think you should be spending as much if not more time focusing on the mental side as you do for the physical side.
So what are the Pitfalls of over training?
Well the main one is:-
I would rather undertrain and at least get to the start of an event in prime condition rather than carrying an injury due to physically overtraining. At least this way I have a fighting chance to get to the end and am not worried about any niggles or problems associated with heavy training. I see it so often nowadays.
Loss of focus.
Many people who over train lose the love of the challenge along the way. Their entire focus is on the end goal and NOT on the journey they are making. If you are of the persuasion of setting long term goals, then keep it fun, make the journey an enjoyment rather than a chore. Do this by mixing things up and just keep yourself ticking over during the winter. It is not the time to ramp up the distances.
Compromised immune system
If you are going to train so hard, all other aspects need to be adjusted accordingly; more training needs more rest time, more training needs more focus on nutrition and hydration. Often people just push up their training and fail to address all the other aspects and this results in reduced immunity. If this happens and you do not read the signs along the way, your body will rebel and impose a forced time out. If you are not going to protect yourself it will do it for you and you will end up with a lengthy time out due to sickness.
Comparing YOUR journey to that of others is by far the biggest culprit here. Trying to attain the goals of others is never going to work for you. STOP reading blogs, STOP trying to do what others do and DO what you need to.
In conclusion, this is a tough game. There is no book on how to achieve a marathon, only a plethora of information on how OTHERS achieved their goals within THEIR capabilities and time constraints. You are you and only you can prepare for YOUR GOAL. This needs to be more Holistic and adapted for your ability, time constraints and pressures. I leave you with a question I now know the answer to but you must find your answer
Does your body control your mind or your mind control your body? Think about it and be certain to place focus where you think it will be best used. I know my answer
If anyone would like to discuss my mental training techniques in more detail then please contact me using the contact forms or comment on this post
Now, on a slightly more fun note, As some of you know, the pod of hippos has recenty been gifted with another Hippo, all the way from Zimbabwe in Africa and after a social media poll to find a name for the hippo, Slimhippo has finally settled on the name of Mvuu. This is the Shona name for Hippopotamus and Shona is the local vernacular in the northern parts of Zimbabwe. So welcome to the clan, we love you and hope you will enjoy your travels with us to different parts of the world.