Friday, July 29, 2016

Progress and Digress

        More likely than not we are beyond the half way point of the summer. The leaves will turn in late August if you pay close enough attention. Still, you could call this the half way through summer report. Close enough, I say. Summer has been pretty solid. The hot and occasionally humid weather hasn't worn thin on me just yet. Training is, or was, going well. I carried through well with a few goals. Shooting percentages are not averaging in the 90s yet, but the overall quality has improved. Physical training has had it's ups and down. The overall feeling, not unlike shooting, is heading in the right direction. The past couple of months have not been without the hang up here and there. Here is a break down of how the sport has been going lately.

Can you see what's wrong with this picture? 
        The most recent news revolves around the disaster zone that was my lower back. Does any of that sound familiar? Pulling the weeds in the garden at the house may not have helped, but if you've ever seen an athlete put on a pair of rollerskis it would make a physical therapist cringe. There I was with the intention of an easy two hours on the roller loop at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. I bent over to clip into my bindings when I felt the breaking point. The denial game didn't work. Training was over and it was back to the gauntlet of recovery techniques. The rebound time wasn't as expedient as I hoped so naturally I went into panic mode. This lead to trying to contact anyone that could help on a Saturday. Since then I've visited a chiropractor, scheduled an appointment with a PT and made good use of Ibuprofen and an ice pack. The real punch to face is blow training takes. Biking has been the staple of training since the break. Running is too high impact and roller skiing is what caused the problem in the first place. On top of that shooting was off the routine. Leaning back and cradling an eight pound rifle for standing doesn't work on a seized up back.
        I'm certainly not the first ski-racer to have this sort of problem. For all the benefits of cross country skiing the occasional muscle imbalance and stress it puts on your back is not one of them. The trick to racing successfully amidst the unavoidable injuries and sickness you'll encounter is to do your best to prevent them and train around them when they do occur. It will always be a gamble, but with more experience you can better understand what your limits are. Since I wasn't even able to get into prone position, much less standing I resorted to watching world cup video from last season while working on good trigger pressure. Even switching clips was an option. When your limited on resources you can only make the very best of what you have. It was not until the following Tuesday that I was able to get into prone. This let me do some slow fire at the range. I attempted to up the road biking level and do a higher intensity session. This ended up with a busted spoke, but thankfully I traded my road bike in for a freshly repaired mt. bike. Good timing can go a long way.

A bit much on the flex end for rollerskis.
       In regards to reaching outside of the sport for some insight. After pulling a few strings I was able to set up an on range skype meeting with a precision shooter, Matt Emmons. Admittedly I was a little skeptical at first. From a glace the sports seem to have a few obvious similarities, but the actual mechanics are very different. This was not the case after all. The new stock I picked up this year allowed easy adjustments. The advise that Matt had was very useful. We made a few changes to standing that made aiming much more solid and cleared up a plaguing problem I've had in my standing since I was a junior. Prone required another session to work out. It's still not perfect, but I feel better with it than I did at the start of the training season. For now I'm going to take what I have and iron it out in time for the August trials. Post trials has an arsenal of ideas I would like to look into for shooting mechanics and components. Some are easy to experiment with, others require some funding and/or carbon weaving.

      Physical training was going well. There was a point when the energy level was starting to feel stale. With enough effort completing the training was not impossible, but doing so with the quality that I wanted wasn't happening. The energy going into the training needed to be higher. Better energy can generate better response to training. At my old age I want to make the most out of the key sessions. Training myself into the ground has it's place in the plan, but when it feels like this when it's not in the plan then we take the most simple solution. Which is to stop training. I took a four day stretch off. Naturally the spring in the legs came back and I felt good about training again. A few days later my lower back suggested otherwise. And this brings me to where I am now. Thanks to some long bike rides I've been able to keep the training load in check. As soon as I bring the injury back to homeostasis I can get back into the productive grind.
      Maybe the optimism is too high. If the first round of trials is a disaster it wouldn't be the first time. If this back injury becomes a reoccurring issue all year training quality will ultimately take a hit. On the other hand there is plenty of reason to suggest that this could be a good season. Confidence has worked well for me in the past so I'm going to play optimism card as much as I want.

Oh the glories of fresh pavement. 


Friday, July 1, 2016

Mental Trickery and the Search for the End of Training

        Have you ever wondered what your tolerance for all things boring was? Or how good you are at measuring time without using a watch? The amount of true time I spend actually training can't hold a candle to an eight hour work day, but if you've ever tried to run for more than three hours consecutively you would understand why the mental side of training has it's own department of over thinking. It's a game of self trickery. You have to find a way to make the training session feel shorter and easier than it actually is. The outcome result is all the same, but if you approach it correctly it goes by in what seems like half the time and effort.

      The trick to making it through a longer distance session is to avoid looking at the time display on your watch. You can go crazy glancing at every minute pass by during a four hour bike ride. I switch the display on my watch to heart rate only or distance, maybe altitude. As long as I don't know how long I've been out for, I'm less likely feel the gravity of the whole workout. When I've reached a certain point or distance goal then I'll check in on the total time.

      The process of mental trickery for the harder effort sessions is a different process. For these sort of days you have to mark the next corner or transition as a point goal. The faster you make it to the arbitrarily selected tree the closer you are to being done with the interval; sound strange yet? This process also works because in this case, it encourages faster speed, which compliments the point to the workout in the first place. This process of thought keeps you focused on going faster while distracting you from the onslaught of fatigue you're putting yourself through.

      The other interesting part of this is the use of time perception as a measure of quality. The shorter the duration feels the harder the effort is. My training log is broken up into zones. If I'm trying to achieve quality time spent in the top end zone anything beyond a few minutes should ideally feel like an eternity. If it's a long distance day that is targeting base building then an hour should feel rather short and easy to tolerate. Were it a race pace effort session, 20 to 30 minutes should feel about enough because that's about how long our races typically are.  Sometimes, towards the end of a training period, an hour even at an easy level will feel longer than it should simply because I'm tired. It just takes more work to force the system into training when it would rather be resting.

      It's a little difficult to explain. The topic of mental trickery is all to well known for me, primarily because I have had a lot of time to overthink it. Most of which takes place during the three plus hour sessions. A lot of athletes don't have to deal with this because they train in groups and have that element of distraction to work with. Since I'm not a fan of group training I'm left with my own thoughts. Thus we have the scheming of turning otherwise boring or grueling workouts into more entertaining goal oriented adventures. I thought this would be good mention given the time of the year. The bulk of the training load starts from May into October. That's a lot of time to get to know a roller ski loop.