It's that time of the year again...physical tapering and mental charging is well underway for the ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Championships. Stop training and start writing is what works best for me in these final days. For us (Team Say No! to Doping) it’s the fourth time we participate in this classic swimrun event. I guess the main reason we keep coming back is simply because without pain there is no scale for our emotions. It’s only when we suffer, we learn to appreciate the value and meaning of things. Of course this does not mean that we start hitting each other with a hammer on race day...even though we have come close to throwning things at each other but that’s a different story.
When you move in different terrain the body and mind are subjected to different stress levels. The trick is to do something clever with the signals your brain receives. The rational brain processes this enormous amount of data and tries to make sense out of it. If you think of your body as a complex machine than the rational brain is the control center where an army of brain cells is flicking back and forth through pages of an ancient book with the title: "Pain signal interpretation for Dummies". Unfortunately there are quite a few pages missing and this is where the Feeling Brain comes in. It will just come up with something and does whatever it feels like. It’s a bit like playing the game Master Mind: it's a repetitve process of logic and intuition to figure out the correct 5 colors…we’ll get back to that later.
Course knowledge vs Body knowledge
So, every year there are heaps of swimrunners at the start line of ÖtillÖ. A lot of them have never put a foot in Sweden let alone Utö or Sandhamn. It’s true that one of the biggest advantages you can have as a team is to practice the course. If you know what’s coming you can adjust your pace accordingly. Also, your brain can be “in the moment” because it has already build a visual memory of the last 3km on Utö, the exit point of the pig swim or that nasty 1,5km trail section on Kymmendö Bunsön. End result: optimum pacing means less muscle fatigue and as such there is more stored energy left in the muscles to turn it into speed at the latter stages of the race.
So, what to do if you’re new to ÖtillÖ or simply don’t live in Sweden. Well, you study the maps. Certain terrain and weather conditions will cause specific (stress and pain) signals. As long as you engage your brain to recognize them and react with an appropriate action then the race will be a meaningful experience if not, then all these signals will be nothing more then an “unpleasant distraction” and that's a serious waste of energy, if you ask me.
So, in order to make things easy I summarized my personal “Swimrun Signal Play List”:
1) Lactic acid production ( i.e. running or swimming too fast on gravel or road sections, steep uphills, cold starts, not enough electrolyte in-take)
2) Muscle fiber/tissue damage (i.e. eccentric running on rocks, steep descents, sudden stops, sharp turns, sudden alterations in terrain conditions mainly)
3) Body temperature mismanagement (i.e. overheating on long runs or shivering cold on long swims or where run sections between swims are technical)
4) Brain drain fundamentals (i.e. over analyzing, thinking too much ahead, wrong focus, talking non-stop, negative team spirit, lack of mental preparation)
1. Lactic acid signals come in “different frequencies and strength”. Below are a few examples:
2. Muscle pain and fatigue signals are like "snipers in a war zone": they take their time to infiltrate but when they are strategically positioned and pull the trigger you will be lethally wounded. This trigger point will normally happen after 4-5 hours of racing after which it's the same for everybody: Are you mentally tough enough to cope with the pain while maintaining a certain pace to get to the finish line? Really, that becomes the question and it's not something you can train for. It's your primal survival instinct which only comes out on race day. Below a few ideas on muscle fatigue:
3. Body temperature mismanagement
Swimrun is one of the few sports where heat management plays a vital role to ensure optimum performance. During ÖtillÖ your body (36 deg C) has to manage well over fifty transitions where the temperatures ranges between air (20 deg C) and water (15 deg C).
4. Brain Drain Fundamentals
Roughly 20% of your energy is spend "between your ears" so if you want to race economic it’s worthwhile figuring in advance how best to engage your brain on race day. It basically boils down to ensuring a "happy marriage" between our rational brain and our feeling brain. As we all know, the feeling brain is “the boss in the house” but just a bit slow when it comes down to decision making. The only way to get some action out of "the Diva" is to keep it short and simple. It's almost like a restaurant menu, if you put 40 options there you spend double the amount of time to make a decision. While encountering different terrain and swim conditions I put my Signal Play List on a "3 seconds toggle mode". This engagement between body and mind shortens the time between sensing the slightest signal of “feeling crap” and an appropriate action to reduce the source of the problem by: reducing speed, adjusting stroke rate, cabbing down wet suit or taking a gel. Train it enough and it will become a subconcious brain routine which will burn the least amount of calories. Strong Neural pathways will be build between cause and effect according to the following body and mind algorithm:
Sense - Recognise - Judge - Process - Act - Fine tune (repeat ).
It's just like dancing....the Rational Brain is the Dance Instructor and is teaching the Feeling Brain to recognise each Song (Signal), come up with the right dance moves (Judge & Process) then adjust the moves according to changes in rhythm (Act and fine tune).
Our preparation slides for ÖtillÖ:
Me: Thomas Schreven
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