Friday, July 8, 2011

Fatigue- How to Overcome it and keep focused

Everyone has been here. I have been to the point of no return fatigue a few times this season already. But, when it kicks in I try to manage it the best way I know how.

Motivation becomes a struggle as the Distances of triathlon get longer for me. The 1-1.5 hour swims, the 100 mile bike rides, the 2-3 hour runs. What keeps me going when I am using up all my energy?? What drives me to continue to push through when my body is saying the heck you are?! There is a secret to keeping my enthusiasm for the sport alive all during my journey to take on 140.6 miles!! Im going to let you in on my little secret.

"Fatigue is all in your head" Well at least according to Samantha McClone it is.

Sure she can say this a she is one of the greatest triathletes in the World. Its easy to say but harder to convince yourself of this when your legs are cramping up, you have slowed to the Ironman Shuffle, your breathing becomes out of synch. But really there is a theory out there that fatigue is not a product of bodily shutdown but of the brain.

When the brain senses that reserves are getting low, it begins to shut down muscle fiber recruitment in order to protect the heart from damage done by lack of oxygen. So it is not your quads giving out underneath you, but it is actually your brain telling your muscles to take it easy to avoid a physical catastrophe. You’ll experience this reduction in neural recruitment as fatigue, but there is actually always an “emergency reserve” maintained in the muscles. When you see people collapsing at 400 meters from the end of a Ironman that is the incredible mind overriding the bodies own signal to slow down. They collapse because the brain registers the finish line and that it doesn't have to push so hard anymore.

If you stop considering that pain/fatigue is a bad thing, if you can remove yourself from the immediacy of the sensations and look at pain as an objective signal, like a gas indicator light, it becomes much easier to just grit your teeth and get to the finish line as fast as possible (or get through your workout/training session), which is really the best motivation of all.

Instead of my fatigue, I focus on a few things:

Form- how do I look to a person who is standing by watching?? Is my cadence between 90-92? Are my shoulders tense on my bike? Am I correctly distributing my weight on the bike?/ Hows my form when Im running?/ Hows my cadence?? Am I landing and popping quickly?

Fuel and fluid- when I get a little cranky, I know Im down on my carbs or electrolytes. The brain runs on glycogen, and requires a steady stream of quick sugar. Am I hydrated enough? Am I following my hydration plan correctly??

Count steps/strokes/ pedal turns- Sometimes its all you can do to get through. Especially on the run. Count to a 100, I do it all the time. Then on the bike up a hill I count to 8. Again and again. It takes me out of my negative thoughts and into focusing on the here and now.

Think about why you are racing- Personal acheivement, family, charity, a bet. Whatever it may be. It is powerful knowing that someone is out there or is counting on you to finish that race.



  1. Fatigue is an interesting topic since no one really knows for sure what the cause is. They used to think it was lactic acid, but now they've discovered that's actually a fuel. One of the latest theories I've read is that it's calcium "leakage" that causes fatigue, but I haven't read anything that convinces me that's the only cause. Then there's Tim Noake's Central Governor Theory, which you post reminds me of. Until I read something more convincing, I tend to believe in the Central Governor.

  2. Interesting post! I think there is definitely a mental part to training and racing! I like your tips for getting past the fatigue!

  3. So much of anything is a mind game. Going into the swim, knowing you're going to get kicked- getting on the bike with a saddle sore ;) - running when you really want to just stop! You rock girl, keep moving and inspiring us!! Love the new pic!

  4. Well said. I count to 100 on my left side, right side, then both legs on the bike, do it up to 1000, then start again. It keeps my mind off the miles on those 5-6 hour rides. You'l have to let me know how B2B is...i was between that or Chesman!

  5. Love this post Kristin! Some great tips! I think triathlon is such a mental sport - the hardest discipline to get right for some people and it really can wear on you!