Measuring maximum effort

In cycling, and I’m sure in many other endurance or sprint sports, we have a couple of sayings that indicate that the leaders win purely because they’re willing to hurt the most. “Everyone hurts as much as you, it’s about the last person to give in” is typically one of them. And when I say hurt, I don’t mean bash your toe against the bed post hurt. I’m referring to every muscle in your legs screaming of pain, your arms going numb as all the blood and oxygen is rushing to the bigger muscles that need them, your lungs are burning and you are rasping for breath, if someone listened to your breathing they would think you are asthmatic! In racing, this is what we inflict on


every time. Some days I love it, some days I pray for it to end, but still endure it since I know it will end the race sooner, rather than being stuck on your own. Another saying “It doesn’t get easier, you only go faster”.

Why does this matter? Yesterday we did a time trial, known as the race of truth, since it is only you, your bicycle, your pain and the clock, and in this case your partner since it was a team TT. In other words, as hard as you can go to see if you can do the best time compared to everyone else. I always replay time trials in my head and think – could have gone faster there, should have not recovered there… During training we also do max intervals, for shorter periods, but they’re MAX efforts. My question remains – how do I know my body cannot go any harder? This is an 80% mind game, so when my body is screaming at me to stop and logic tells me I should, but my heart tells me you must go harder, how do I know I didn’t let logic and hurt stop me instead of true physical exertion? What can I do to determine whether it is my hurt talking, or whether I’ve truly achieved my max for today? I know stories of pros where they pushed so hard they physically passed out. We also hear of people throwing up because they trained so hard, I have never had that, yet… The bigger reason why all of this matters this much to me – what do I need to do to become a World Champ on 25 Aug 2012 in Pietermaritzburg.

We train more scientifically and monitor our Watt output while riding to see if we’re loafing or really tired, but at some point our minds step in and say “enough”. There is no switch to flick it off, but some days we can push past it. What makes those days different, what can we replicate? The more philosophical question is, if we were powerful enough to train our minds to switch off to our perception of pain and tiredness, what will we be capable of? And the frustrating part – we are that powerful, we must just be willing to train our mind as much as we train our bodies.

We do push through our own barriers when we consistently focus on doing it. The chicken and egg of it – do we achieve a new target because we got stronger, or because we are used to the pain from last time, so we endure it a bit longer, or both? BUT, is it possible that we already are that much stronger, but mentally haven’t been able to push ourselves to that ‘new limit’ yet?

A last thought to think of – when we think we’ve physically exerted ourselves completely, our bodies are capable of doing another two full ironmans… Will we ever evolve to a point where we know we have now pushed through our own perception AND the two ironmans, and there really isn’t anything left?


One thought on “Measuring maximum effort

  1. I have a friend who did 5 ironman’s in 5 days…..we don’t know what it possible until we have tried. Most of us are scared to really try….good refections, enjoyed the read!

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