How to Overcome the Toughest Parts of Training for a Challenge

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Before the Fitbit Fifty on Friday 30th September, Coach sat down with Professor Greg Whyte on Facebook Live to answer questions from the challengers on how to overcome the difficulties of training for a big challenge. Watch the whole video below, or keep scrolling for edited advice from Whyte.

Am I mentally ready to take this thing on?

You have to believe you can achieve it. That belief means you will commit and put in the work required to succeed. The more work and commitment you put in, the greater the motivation. Soon that motivation will drive your belief and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m just too busy to train. How do people find the time?

Unless you’re a professional athlete, the bottom line is that life will get in the way somehow. The key is to have a plan and to share it. You need to let your family and colleagues and friends know you’ll be dedicating yourself to a project. Once they understand that they’ll become much more flexible, which in turn reduces your stress level. You’ll stop thinking “I should be with the kids” or “I should be working right now.”

But equally, that plan shouldn’t be set in stone. There should be periods where you can change and react to what’s going on in life. Make sure you’ve built in an element of flexibility to your plan so you can change things around if you need to.

If I miss a training session, should I make that session up?

Missing a single session is not the end of the world – just leave it. There’s nothing worse than panicking about missing training. If you do, you’ll end up squeezing that session into a place it shouldn’t be, inevitably when you’re stressed and tired. The quality of that session will be poor, the potential for injury or illness increases and it becomes entirely counterproductive.

You should be thinking in terms of an 80% rule. If you’re doing 80% of your training then you’re in the right ballpark to be able to attempt the challenge. If you start missing a lot of sessions, you’ll begin to hinder your preparation and may need to revisit your plan.

People tell me I should listen to my body when training. How do I do that?

When you’re an experienced athlete, you’re tuned in to how your body responds to exercise. If you’re new to it, it’s a lot harder. What you have to think about as an absolute bottom line is what do you need to do to get to that starting line? There is no point in putting in the hours beforehand and then turning up on the day injured. Once you’ve covered getting to the start line, you can start to put yourself in a position where you can compete at your very best.

We focus an awful lot on performance, but what we have to balance that against is health. Health is crucial. If you get sick, you impact performance because of the reduction in training volume. It’s the same with injury.

One piece of the jigsaw that’s missing in a huge amount of people’s programmes is recovery. People tend to recover very badly. They don’t sleep well. They don’t sleep enough. They don’t take rest days. They don’t look after themselves when it comes to nutrition that can optimise their recovery. Rather than listening to your body, think about recovery and you’ll be on the right track.

Am I eating the right sort of food to aid my training?

Generally speaking, there are three things to focus on. First, make it yourself. Think you’re too busy? That’s completely untrue – and invariably it’s cheaper to make it yourself.

Next, eat the rainbow. If you sit down to a plate that is beige, you know that plate is not going to be doing you a great deal of good. If you aim for the full colour spectrum, you’ll be getting enough fruit and vegetables, and a variety of protein too. Doing that means you’ll cover all your macro- and micronutrients.

Lastly, portion size. If you’re trying to achieve weight loss, you should be reducing your intake. If you’re aiming to recover from a six-hour cycle then you need to increase it.

Take those first two points then apply the third based on your workload.

Is feeling that I’m not doing enough training normal?

That’s anxiety. Everybody experiences it. That’s where testing, evaluating and profiling becomes very important.

Before you set your training programme, profile yourself against what is required to perform, and dissect each element down into its component parts. Next you can evaluate whether you have the strength, threshold, cadence or whatever to achieve it. Then design a programme to work on the weaknesses you’ve located, which then brings advancement in performance.

But then what you have to do is reprofile. Look again – are you seeing improvements? If you’re not, you need to adapt your programme. If you’re running that process of profiling, prescribing and monitoring, you can be sure that the training stimulus is enhancing performance and you can relax a bit.

My motivation tends to dip through my training programme. How can I maintain it?

The most obvious is setting goals. What people tend to do is just target the end product. For example, if you’re starting to train for the London Marathon in October, all you’re thinking about is April. Come mid-December things have got really boring and tedious, and it starts to feel as if there’s no point to it.

You’re far better off putting in short- and medium-term goals. Then you start to change your focus so it’s no longer six months ahead. Your focus is now six weeks ahead, because you’re trying to beat your 5K PB or you’ve got a 10K booked, then a half marathon and so on. You’re better off thinking of your long project as a host of short projects.

I’m not sure what tapering off my training before the main event entails? Should I be doing it?

You absolutely should. In essence it’s a drop in training volume, which is a combination of intensity, frequency and duration. At one end of the spectrum is a 5K race, where you taper by reducing duration and frequency while maintaining intensity. For something like an ultra endurance race, the duration remains same and you may reduce frequency but you certainly don’t want to taper off the intensity. What you’re trying to do is arrive on that start line fully recovered and in the best possible condition, so tailor the tapering to the event.

Should I be worried that I have no idea what to expect on the day?

If it’s your first time out there, your personal experience is going to be lacking, so ask yourself what are the key parts to my challenge? With the Fitbit Fifty, for example, it will be getting up at 3am, getting on the bike and hammering it in the dark for hours. In training, you don’t need to entirely replicate the race. But get up at 3am and cycle for a few hours to experience what that feels like.

Take a look at the key aspects of the challenge itself, focus on those and develop a strategy. Over time you’ll piece the whole challenge together and know exactly what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen without having done the whole challenge before.

Craft beer drinker, Devonian, fisherman and former content director of Coach online, Chris contributed style coverage and features between 2016 and 2019.