ATC 281: Steps To Overcome Fear and Anxiety, Swim Faster Without Trying So Hard, and 50k Tapering with a Marathon
March 1, 2019
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I’m a runner making the transition into being a triathlete, and I spent most of last year training for my first full Ironman (Wisconsin). I had the run portion under control from years of half and full marathons, and my high school swim team days paid off by bringing my stroke back pretty quickly, but the bike was another story. I’d never really biked besides to get from point A to point B before Ironman training, and I was doing solid mileage on my point-A-to-point-B road bike, but I was struggling to improve. A friend let me try his super nice tri bike three months before my race so I could try aero position and see how a lighter bike felt, but I was so distracted trying to figure out my positioning and balance and stuff that I ended up losing control and broke my arm in a human vs. pavement collision.
All things considered, I was super lucky. It was a clean olecranon process fracture (basically sheared the head off my ulna), a surgeon stuck a plate in my arm, and Ironman Wisconsin gave me an injury deferral for a year. I healed fast and got back to running, then indoor biking, then swimming as cleared by my doctor, and just got the plate taken out in January. I’m already running, swimming, and indoor biking again, but I am terrified of getting cleared to bike outside (which should happen in a few weeks). Any time I even think about it, I just start replaying the seconds leading up to the crash in my head — realizing I’d lost control, realizing I was going over and it was unrecoverable, and the minute after impact where I just laid there on the (thankfully empty) street thinking, “Shit, I’m hurt.”
How do I get over this fear and get myself back to biking outside? I’ve gotten hurt in sports before and have never had this sort of mental block with getting back into it. I’m worried that the 6+ months I’ve been forced to take off outdoor biking has given me too much time to build up my accident into something worse than it was, but I’m also worried that if I get on a bike nervous and jumpy, I’ll be more likely to get hurt than before.
Should I even bother trying to convert to aero position/a nicer bike, or just stick with what I know? I’ve got a half-Iron in June (Steelhead) and then the full in September, and it’s not like I’m trying to do super well in either — I’ve got goal times, sure, but I’m mostly doing this to get the experience and see if I catch the triathlon bug. I’m leaning towards just using my trusted road bike (Diamondback Airen — it’s nothing fancy, but it’s solid), but I totally see the merit in a lighter bike/having the option to shift body positions every now and then, too.
I’m a 29 year old female, I live in Michigan (crappy winters and roads full of potholes), and I train solo (without a coach or group), if any of that impacts your answers.
The Coaches Say…
- Mindfulness meditation can strengthen the mind. Train yourself to be more aware of thoughts and your reactions to thoughts and feelings. This allows us to not feel as helpless in the face of our fears. When you feel the fear or issue arise, stay with it, don’t try to fight it. Eventually it will subside.
- Focus on breath = less controlled by anxiety.
- Breathe in for a count of 4 and breathe out for a count of 8 to increase serotonin; avoid shallow breathing.
- Exposure is key. Don’t indulge your anxiety or fear by avoiding the thing (trigger). Avoidance may give us temporary relief but avoiding it is allowing the anxiety to win and grow. Avoidance also breeds sense of failure in us.
- Start small coming back to riding on the road. Just practice clipping in and out first, then go for a ride around the block.
- Researchers have found that there are three characteristics that help us become more resilient and hardy:
- Challenge – Reframe the fear as a challenge, not an overwhelming threat.
- Control – We don’t have control over everything but we can control our actions, and this can help us become empowered and do what we need to do for ourselves.
- Commitment – Stay motivated and committed even through hard times, move forward with intention.
- Think of your crash as a learning experience that will prevent it from happening again. Your body will remember what went wrong and likely not repeat the mistake.
- Don’t worry about switching to a TT bike for the 70.3. See how that goes and if you’re feeling confident then you can try moving to a TT for the full if you have the desire to do so.
Swim Harder But Going Slower
I don’t get it, when I increase my effort and push harder in swimming to make certain intervals or test my speed, I end up going even slower than when I’m not thinking about speed at all. What gives? Does this mean my technique is falling apart? What can I do to fix this?
Also some background: I only started swimming as an adult when I took up triathlon. I’m a 45 y/ male. Training for Olympics and 70.3s. Swimming is my weak leg, and I generally swim 2-3x a week for about an hour.
The Coaches Say…
- This is a Central Nervous System (CNS) issue. You’re overthinking it (internal cuing problem); you’re not swimming naturally, efficiently.
- If you want to go faster, you have to relax. If you’re tense in the water then your mobility is off and you won’t move as effectively.
- You need more deep-seated muscle memory. Focus on drills like vertical kicking (start hand assisted) to help with that.
- Stop trying to swim fast. Focus on form, not intervals and effort (just relax). Total Immersion Drills can be helpful.
- Try to get video footage of yourself swimming and compare it to a high quality swim video (or do a consult with a swim coach).
- Practice floating in the water to help relax.
- Fins and paddles won’t correct bad form, so don’t worry about using them.
- Buoy has applications for someone who’s swimming primarily in a wetsuit
- Don’t use tools as a crutch so you can swim faster with your masters buddies
50k Taper with Marathon
Greetings from Norwich, UK! I have a question about training and tapering for a 50k with a marathon thrown in a month beforehand for good measure. Im racing a flat trail 50k (my first ultra) along the Norfolk and Suffolk border on 26th May and have a trail marathon on the 28th April. This will be my third marathon and my second on trails. My road PR is 3:15 and my trail PR is 3:43. I want to enjoy both races and am not going to worry about any scorching fast times, particularly with the 50k where I just want to savour the fact that I’m able to do it. My question is do I regard the marathon as a training run and continue to train right up to it and not taper and then begin the wind down to the 50k or should I include some sort of taper before the marathon, build back a couple of weeks afterwards and taper for the 50k after that? My gut feeling is that I should regard the marathon as my final longest training run and then taper but thought I should really check with the experts. Would I be better off in the long run (pun intended) tapering for both? Any advise would be very much appreciated.
The Coaches Say…
- Short answer: you should be fine with a 26-mile long run, as long as you’re just jogging it.
- There are so many misconceptions about taper! It gets to the heart of the question: how much training do we need to maintain fitness?
- A 2 week taper is not a taper!
- You could probably do a 4-week taper for the marathon (reduce volume 30-60% and do longer threshold runs). Run the marathon. Then bike or swim for about 5 days after the race to promote recovery. You will super compensate! When you’re no longer sore, build back about 50% of what you were doing before the marathon for another 2 weeks (and include intensity). Drop volume again 1-2 weeks out then again the last week before the 50K. You will peak!
- This protocol requires daily monitoring and has a lot of variability. Don’t hesitate to cut it off if there are any red flags.
- Key takeaway: don’t be afraid to rest.
- Hormonal disruption from overtraining takes months or longer to overcome. Don’t go there.