Endurance sport has you digging deeper than you thought possible, but rewards like no other. Train even harder with our top tips…
Whether it’s running or cycling, interval training not only increases your speed, but also helps to simulate the sensations you’ll experience in racing. The more you feel these sensations, the more comfortable you feel in dealing with the pain. It helps you to recognise where your limits are. In a race you think, ‘I know this sensation and I can cope with it.’
Embrace the pain
Instead of seeing pain as discomfort, see it as something to relish and you will reap the benefits. If you maintain this level of effort while training and learn to enjoy it, then other competitors will struggle to match your level of endurance.
Prepare for pain
The strongest athletes engage in mental imagery. MRI scans show that athletes use almost the same parts of the brain when they are actually competing as they do when they just imagine their performance. So visualising your race unfolding will raise your capacity to cope with pain when physically racing.
Keep on exercising
Science has proved that athletes have a higher pain tolerance than normally active adults. A team from Heidelberg University, led by Jonas Tesarz, tested 568 athletes and 331 ‘normal’ individuals and showed that repeated training at the limits changed the perception of pain. What for one person might be a near-death session was, for a trained athlete, merely a minor discomfort.
Have a cuppa
A former professional cyclist-turned-professor of kinesiology from the University of Illinois has shown that coffee increases tolerance to pain. Professor Robert Motl examined the effect of caffeine on high-intensity exercise on 25 participants and all recorded a lower sense of pain perception after taking a pill containing 5mg caffeine per kilogramme bodyweight.
Train in the afternoon, says a research group led by Dr Orfeu Buxton from Chicago University. By examining the hormone profiles of cortisol and thyrotropin, they concluded that your metabolism is fired up and ready to elicit greater punishment – and consequently greater rewards – on your body than training in the morning.
To distract yourself from your perceived pain, direct your focus towards something that helps to maintain form, rhythm and timing. This could be as simple as counting, singing a song with the same tempo as you want to run at, visualising yourself running holding the form you want to hold, or matching the timing and movement of those around you.
Blog post written by James Witts. James is a writer and editor specialising in endurance sport, health & fitness, outdoor adventure and sports science.