Monday, August 15, 2011

Burn baby burn: Getting out of the 'all or nothing' mindset

I was due for 7x300m sprints today, but after the second sprint, my legs started to smoke, heading for a spectacular RD-350 style seizure.

The legs were tired from the start of the ride, but I managed to post a higher speed than last time on the same section on the first sprint (50.05km/h). The second sprint burned like crazy towards the end, and as I rolled into the rest lap I was surprised to find the legs just burned all the harder. After several minutes, I started to get a bit nervous, wondering whether my legs were cramping. I could practically feel the lactic acid boiling in there, and nothing helped, not stopping, not walking and not riding slowly.

I instinctively kept moving though, and cut off the Santa Fe dam for home. The boil soon subsided to a simmer and in five minutes my legs felt as if nothing had happened. I felt guilty, wondering whether I should have finished my sprints, just at a lower intensity.

This leads me to the mistake I made, and one that I think is quite common. The belief that the sprint or interval workout should be all or nothing. Instead of monitoring whether the LT is running low and scaling accordingly, my tendency is to think, "If you're tired, take the day off, else just get out there and kill."

Expert feedback on my day has told me that I was simply tired, and probably didn't heed the signs. Indeed, I knew that my HR was running high for a given level of effort (and I guess my LT running low), but instead of scaling down my sprint effort, I just thought incorrectly that "sprints are sprints, you either blow up with them or you don't do them".

I'm reminded here of another exercise I've been given: to climb out of the saddle for 15 minutes. When I first heard that I laughed derisively. Fifteen minutes? Just 10 seconds out of the saddle makes my HR bounce off the rev-limiter in a most uncomfortable fashion.

Again, it was a matter of recalibrating. Of understanding that just because you're standing, doesn't mean you have to piledrive up the hill. As soon as you start working on standing and yet keeping the HR down, it's pretty surprising how far you can go. I'd have hit 15 minutes by my second workout, but ran out of hill. For my third go, I found a long enough climb and didn't touch butt to saddle for the entire 15 minutes. (Okay, I dabbed once to be able to get my hand off the bar to wipe some sweat off the brow. Reminder, drink water before you start this workout!)

There's much depth to the training wisdom that "it's hard to go easy" and it's true that the more you train (no matter how old you are when you start), the more maturity you gain. I think back with a shudder to my days when I applied "all or nothing" to every workout, not just the short, high-intensity ones. It seems so stupid now, but it's frighteningly easy to get caught up in the belief that if 70% effort is good, 90% must be better.


  1. Gautham, thanks for the additional clarification about the 15 minutes out of saddle effort. I was meaning to ask you but assumed that you just got immensely fitter to be able to do that and that I just need more time(like may be an year or two) to be able to attempt something like that. :)

  2. Haha, no Venky I think you'll do it with ease! Only thing though, is that it's actually easier in a bigger gear because it lets you stand a little on the pedal and rest for that brief moment. Otherwise you have to hold yourself up and that gets tiring very quickly.