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My triathlon hell; above the neck fitness



January 5 , 2015 | Posted by Dave Cripps |

My triathlon hell; above the neck fitness

Half way into the swim of my Olympic Triathlon nearly 4 years ago, I was in a bad place…

Swimming was a major weakness, and having never done any open water swimming before, I was paying the price

50 minutes later, yes 50! I lowered my legs to walk out

I could barely stand

I was breathing like someone suffering from an asthma attack, my fingers were so cold I couldn’t put my shoes on

Even the lady sitting on a bench right by me asked ‘Are you sure your ok’

I looked like a wreck, I felt like a wreck…

It was like how you felt after a grueling conditioning/fitness session

But there was a problem…

I still had a 500m uphill run to my bike, a 40km bike and a 10km run

Plus I had my mate to chase down who had a big lead on me!!!

To cut a long story short, I finished the event in 2hrs:55sec under my 3hr target, thanks to huge efforts on the bike and run which I did great on despite the fatigue from the swim

But how was this possible when I had exerted so much effort on the swim?

How did I even get through the bike let alone finish?

Well this is the area of fitness and performance which most people un appreciate

The psychological side, not just the physiological side

The psychophysiology



Most people associate fitness with what goes on below the neck, at the lungs, heart and muscles

And this is perfectly sound, we know this plays a big role in fitness and performance

However this is only one part of the engine

The second is, the brain

You see many decades ago, scientists thought endurance was governed by the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen to the working muscles

Then, at the turn of Millennium, a group of scientists in South Africa began to suggest this was not the case and in fact, endurance was fundamentally determined by the brain

Without going ‘white coat scientist’, they basically reported that people cease exercise before their physiological limits

The body was capable of more than it was being let to

Now while this is a deep area with lots of different opinions and contexts within it, this work, along with that of a more recent guy called Sam Marcora, shows while physiology (below neck) is key for fitness, so is the psychology (above neck)



So going back to my triathlon swim hell…

the thing which allowed me to carry on and put in great bike and run performances (for me!) after, when it looked and felt like nothing was left was…

My mind…

I had been used to training hard for years before

I hadn’t always trained hard when I was younger, but I learned its benefits and embraced it

I had ran half marathons and also ran a 53 mile ultra

I had completed training sessions I didn’t think I could, I had battled on ruthlessly despite my body telling my mind to give the hell up

This culminated in great ‘above neck training’

So fast forward to me trying to put my trainers on by the lake next to the lady, the thing which got my tired, sorry ass off the ground on to that bike pushing hard was, my will power

It’s not just about doing the session, ticking the box and working on the one half (physiology)

Its about working as hard as you can during these sessions…

Making it uncomfortable

Making your mind question if you can continue, if you can make it

And then coming out the other side having conquered it

Knowing I had battled 53 hilly miles the previous year was a huge boost in my ‘mental fitness’ when I was dying on the side of that lake…


That’s why determination and work ethic are key

And the effect has far more influence beyond sport…

It has a global influence on your mindset and performance in all areas of life


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