When it comes to successful training and races, we all hope for a “turning point.” That is the moment when the body and brain kick into gear and things begin to roll. Making good on the promise of a positive turning point is the secret to getting great results.
A turning point can go the other way as well if that good feeling disappears and things start to collapse within you. Avoiding tragedy when that kind of point comes along is the secret to avoiding damage and suffering.
It takes practice––perhaps rehearsal is a better word––to recognize both kinds of turning points for what they are.
During any given workout it is typical to feel sluggish until the body warms up. That’s the period during which the body’s systems are working to process oxygen and burn fuel to meet demand.
Sometimes the warmup phase lasts well into the first third of the workout. At some point a sensation of efficiency starts to take hold. The warmup phase is over and the workout phase arrives. That is the first turning point within that workout, the spot where potential meets performance.
Later in that workout, after the middle period when the bulk of the work is done, a different turning point arrives. That is when the work already done starts to tax the body’s stored fuel sources and fatigue starts to affect the muscle fibers.
A smart athlete knows that turning point is always around the corner. Even athletes doing “negative splits” know there is a turning point where there is a tradeoff between sustainable speed and “maxxing out.” Another term for this state is “redlining,” the practice of racing or training at a performance level where the body doesn’t slip into a lactic acid state and cause a sudden dropoff in pace. That’s the wrong kind of turning point.
The right kind of turning point is being mentally and physically present with the feedback your body is giving you. That “associative” approach is a “promise” you make to your body and mind. Building trust in that feedback is a question of teaching your body the alternating sensations of performance and pain that define the quality and limits of performance.
Hard interval sessions (anaerobic training) and speedwork stretch the aerobic and muscles systems to accept and endure fatigue. Long workouts on the run, ride and swim tune the body to the wearing forces including cycing “Time In the Saddle” (TITS) along with runs that callous the body to repetitive stress and swims that force the athlete to maintain form and concentration despite all conditions.
All these training tactics contribute to the ability to meet turning points induced by fatigue that lead to doubts and fears. The entire goal of training is to prepare for these “turning points” and know how to process them. That breeds confidence and ensures that a fatigue-induced turning point is an expected experience rather than a rude surprise.
That said, even the best-prepared athlete in the world encounters situations where difficult training or race conditions ruin plans. That’s where a bit of bargaining takes place in turning point physiology and psychology. The “pace of the day” can change when heat, wind, waves or the body’s physical reactions to nutrition or other factors eclipses even the best turning point mentality.
In those circumstances, the athlete conducts a turning point “survey” to determine their options. Sometimes this takes place slowly, testing the body’s response and ability to endure more. It can also take place suddenly, such as the choice to continue in severe weather conditions that post a genuine safety threat.
But those choices are forced upon you. The more subtle and important turning points are those you make on days when a potentially good performance is on the line. I recall the day that I greeted my wife during a Half Ironman when she passed through water station with two miles to go and she smiled and yelled to me, “I’m going to hit my goal!”
All her preparation and training put her in that position. We passed through many turning points together in training as she put in the miles. I recall her indoor training intervals where she stated “I’m going too fast…” in the early stages of an interval workout, and helping her through the latter stages when it felt like she wanted to quit.
We all face turning points in our endeavors. They are what make competitive sports an interesting enterprise. Turning points are how we test ourselves, gain confidence and learn from our mistakes. Keep turning points in mind as you go through your training and racing. They are an important tool in understanding the full nature of your expectations and the realities of getting there.
It is also amazing what dealing with turning points in athletics teaches you about moments in life when challenges arise. Learning not to panic and “be present” in the moment to make good decisions even under stress is an enormous benefit in life.