It hasn't been the kind of final 6 weeks of training that I was hoping to have as the Cape Epic fast approaches. A mix of over-training, illness, and over-thinking have all wreaked havoc on my mind, motivation, confidence, and feelings of fitness as the month of February comes to a close.
Feels like the above video captures the most training I got done in February... Exaggeration, sure, but the lack of mileage has worn on me!
Punctuated with a few 'training camps' in frigid temperatures, the final block of training before leaving for South Africa has been about as far from ideal as I could imagine. When the wheels fall off, motivation feels at an all-time low, and your body feels like it's failing you, it's hard not to panic at least a little bit.
It was the perfect storm of confidence-shaking events, but it convinced me to try doing something I never would have dreamed - turning off the fitness tracking tech.
Let the mind games begin
Preparing for a stage race like the Cape Epic feels like a daunting task to face when having to balance a training program between the rest of life. It never feels like you can fit enough riding in a given week to properly prepare. That's one mind game that seems to always be running in the background: Am I doing enough to prepare? It's an expensive commitment, both in time and money, and I don't want that all to be for naught.
To make the most of training efficiency with limited time, I rely on a variety of data-driven tools and measurements. Never before has the average athlete had access to such a vast pool of data.
My go-to metrics that I gather and track in any given training block include:
Workout Heart Rate
Training Stress Score (TSS)
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Resting Heart Rate
Subjective metrics like Overall Feeling, Fatigue, Motivation, Sickness, etc
It's a lot to think about, and while all of those metrics can provide value to guide training efforts, it can also create a mess of things to over-think, if you're prone to such things (which I am).
It was a piece by Brad Stulberg, posted in Outside Magazine, that put the idea of ending the metric tracking into my head. His short column piece, titled The Great Paradox of Peak Performance, talks about athletic performance and training in an easy-to-understand way.
The article cites research from the 70's around the Four Phases of Competency that we go through when trying to learn or master a skill. The four phases of competency are moved through sequentially, described very briefly below:
Unconscious Incompetence Where we start from - we don't know what we are doing, and we don't even know where to start. It's the very first step, before we've even received instruction. Think of someone trying to ride a bike without training wheels the first time. Or trying to play the guitar for the first time - before instruction, we have no idea how to even start.
Conscious Incompetence The next step - we have awareness of what doing 'it' correctly looks like, and are aware that we are doing it wrong.
Conscious Competence Progress! We are doing whatever it is correctly in this stage, but it takes a lot of thought and effort. We are constantly analyzing, correcting, improving, etc. It's also during this stage where Stulberg points out that you are likely trying superhard and finally getting it right, which feels great, but is is also a juncture where most people get stuck.
Unconscious Competence This is that state of 'flow' that we've all heard of or experienced before. That point where everything is coming naturally, you feel in the zone, and you are performing without thinking or analyzing.
Some of my best rides have come when I don't have a Garmin on, tracking my every heartbeat, change in speed, elevation gain, time or anything else. Ironically, I actually can't remember the last time I rode without a Garmin staring back at me on my handlebars. When you're drowning in data, it's pretty hard to enter that state of flow, where everything just feels right.
So with that, and a nudge from teammate, Coleman, I am going on a data-diet for the last few weeks before the Cape Epic kicks off. No more measuring heart rate metrics first thing in the morning, no opening up my TrainingPeaks account to look at my "fitness" graph, and no more pouring over the data from a ride.
In fact, I have just taped over the top of my laptop screen so that I can still ride the trainer on Zwift without being able to see my power output.
Is this the right thing to do? I don't know! But it's worth a shot to try to stop overthinking fitness metrics - and what I do know: stressing over a plunging line in a graph showing fitness in TrainingPeaks is NOT productive.
Obviously, a lot of value comes with measuring all those things I mentioned above. Am I making the case that I, or anyone else for that matter, should stop measuring those entirely? Absolutely not. (I'm not qualified enough to make any sort of recommendation on training matters anyways!)
But could it be valuable to take a break from all of that from time to time? I think so.