Articles

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Over each of the weeks of the Off Season Challenge, I'll be writing thoughts and tips about mindfulness.

While each week will convey a particular skill or aspect of mindfulness, I really want you to think about each skill as being a link in a chain; week by week we'll build the chain. This chain can help you change your performance as an athlete and as a person.

Like most skills, such as swimming or dancing, mindfulness takes time and practice to develop. It becomes stronger and more effective with practice.

If I asked a swim coach what the most important part of becoming a great swimmer is, they would tell me practice, practice and some more practice. Similarly with mindfulness.

So, for our first week, I'll define mindfulness and offer a basic way to start practicing.

Mindfulness is a meditation technique that brings one's attention to the present moment, without judging, denying, solving, etc.

By developing the skill of bringing one's attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, simply observing it, we start to change how our...

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Everyone makes goals. We are told from an early age to set and achieve goals. Some may even be familiar with the saying, “SMART” goals—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. What is poorly understood, however, is how to set process goals, short-term goals and how to create systems that enable them to reach their long-term goals. The problem with outcome, or long-term goals is that they merely provide direction, but do not by themselves lead to actionable steps. In fact, it is quite possible that long-term goals have the opposite of the intended effect on a person’s behavior and motivation. It’s easy to get discouraged when a long-term goal is so far away that it seems nearly impossible to reach. That’s why it’s important to understand the detailed steps involved in helping a person reach their goals.

Before embarking on a life-changing journey, it’s necessary to reflect on WHY you want to do it. Dig deep and take time to reflect on why you want what you want, and how you will get there. Some common goals such as “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to...

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This may be a strange way to start my story and journey with Vision Quest, but it all started after I got hit by a car at the end of a 40-mile solo ride, about a half-mile from my house, on November 8, 2016. The key word there is: solo.

On the day my left leg developed an intimate relationship with the front of a Mercedes C-Class, I had been cycling on and off for about ten years. At the time, my primary focus was running and I competed mostly in 5K and 10K races, sprinkled with some duathlons and one miserable Olympic-distance triathlon. I learned two things from that time: that I am a miserable swimmer and that I love cycling. Slowly but surely, more of my personal time was being dedicated to cycling.

That said, I had no idea what I was doing in terms of training. I ramped up my volume--mostly solo with some group rides peppered in--then got a cadence meter and a crappy little bike computer. I saw some improvements, but after a while I hit a plateau. I didn’t pay much attention to it as I just enjoyed being out on my bike. I love the speed that I...

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Bikes have gears. They have been around for a long time. They are fantastic! It used to be that you only had a few options, but you were grateful for them. Now, modern bikes may have between 10 and 30 different gearing options (with some overlap), allowing the rider to dial in the preferred speed, cadence and power output.

Have you ever seen another rider, usually--but not always--a recreational rider, slogging away, struggling to make it up some modest incline, while mashing on the pedals and rocking the upper body all over the place in an attempt to find some extra power? Do you then look down and notice the hardest gearing combination? Do you wish you could tell the rider there’s an easier way to get there and all it takes is a flick of the finger or a twist of the wrist?

Although that example is extreme, it draws attention to something that many athletes may not ever give much thought to: the proper cadence for different types of riding. Many riders new to cycling will adopt a relatively low cadence, around 60-70 rpms. Lance Armstrong helped to popularize a higher...

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As the warmer weather sets in, many of us increase our overall training volume by adding more time to our weekend exercise. This is a good thing for the most part, but we must consider the fatiguing effects of this extra volume and increase the emphasis on recovery. Our weekly routine of cycling intensity and strength work remains the same, but we're adding significantly more hours on the weekend, increasing our volume. This has a big impact on our bodies and energy systems.

One mistake many athletes make is not considering the recovery needs of this extra volume. Even though we have great weather approaching and ideal training conditions, be careful with how quickly you ramp up your weekend activity. Put together a plan that increases slowly over the next three to four weeks. Your body can handle small increases in overall volume, but if you're bound and determined to ride significantly longer after the frustration of bad weather and uncertainty of how long it will stay nice, you may want to cut back some of your weekday training intensity to accommodate for your bigger...

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Not all that long ago, the prevailing opinion in sports science was that you needed to replace 100% of your sweat losses to maintain your performance when exercising.

That would imply that during an Ironman, ultra-running race or long sportive, some athletes should be aiming to drink as much as 64-96oz an hour! That’s a hell of a lot of drinking. In fact, it’s beyond what is physically possible for most people.

The general “drink, drink, drink” marketing messages coming from the sports drink industry in the 1980s/90s has been blamed for driving the worrying increase in cases of hyponatremia (ill health - or even death in extreme cases - caused by the over-consumption of fluid) seen in amateur sports. In fact, a study conducted at Ironman Frankfurt a few years ago found that as many as 10% of finishers had hyponatremia to some extent, which will have impacted their performance at best.

Aiming to replace all of your sweat losses during exercise is unnecessary. In fact, trying to do so could lead to an increased...

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Hyponatremia is a medical term describing low (hypo) blood sodium levels (natremia – Na is the chemical symbol for sodium).

There are a few different causes of the condition, but the one of interest to athletes is when dilution of sodium levels in the blood is driven by excessive drinking. This can be made worse by the loss of sodium in sweat during prolonged exercise.

Data on the prevalence of the condition in Ironman finishers suggests, scarily, that over 10% of athletes have hyponatremia at the end of a race!

Why is hyponatremia bad?

Maintaining blood sodium levels within a healthy range is critical to homeostasis and optimal bodily function. When blood sodium levels drop below this ideal range, initial symptoms can include...

  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle...
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When people talk about hydration, most of the time it's about what and how much athletes should drink during exercise.

These are clearly important questions, but your performance is also massively influenced by how hydrated you are when you start exercising in the first place. Drinking a strong electrolyte drink to optimise your hydration status before long, hot or really hard training sessions and events can significantly improve your performance.

We call this "preloading" and the practice has been widely studied in the last 20 years or so, both with astronauts and athletes. Whilst there's not a completely bulletproof consensus on the subject - there rarely is - there's strong evidence that taking in additional sodium with fluids before you start sweating is effective in promoting increased acute fluid retention and in improving endurance performance, especially in the heat.

Once you begin sweating you're generally going to be fighting a losing battle against fluid and electrolyte loss, so starting off properly hydrated can be extremely beneficial. When you're...

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  • Everyone loses a different amount of sodium in their sweat, from as little as 200mg per 32oz of sweat to as much as 2,000mg per 32oz!
  • This is largely genetically determined. So, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to hydration just doesn’t work.
  • Most sports drinks (Gatorade etc) contain 200-550mg of sodium per 32oz, whereas the average athlete loses about 950mg per 32oz!
  • Maintaining the sodium levels in your blood is crucial to performing at your best when you’re sweating for long periods.
  • Sodium helps you absorb and retain fluid, which keeps your blood volume up, reducing cardiovascular strain and fatigue.
  • It can also help you avoid cramp.
  • Just drinking water when you’re sweating over long periods dilutes your sodium levels, which can really impact your performance and could lead to hyponatremia. A recent study found 10% of athletes had hyponatremia at the end of an Ironman!

Getting hydration...

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