Make sure you have 10 minutes to read this article, I will share insight on performance vs accomplishment, how we can benefit from cross-training, the effect of aging and how you can perform better!
Photo credit: Yucca Films (me running around with the Yucca boys above le Signal in Chamonix)
What really separates the top endurance athletes from the rest?
Talent, DNA, opportunities, early start, genes, better training methods, emotional stability?
Athletes that are at the top of their sport are not because they are gifted or talented but because they work hard, they train effectively, are consistent, focus and are 100% committed.
Some people have great genes but will never reach the top.
Others are not gifted but are breaking barriers and pushing limits.
Where does it come from? WITHIN
You need to want it.
Performance is not something you can buy.
It’s something you own
Wanting to be the best you can be
Externally focused – have a routine figure out
Individual leader – do not need to be motivated or told what to do to do it!
Ability to execute – to get up and train day after day is a behavior not a trait
Confidence – being a competitive athlete can be emotionally challenging: injuries, low energy, ‘not to win’, dealing with internal demons…
Loving the sport
Hard work and smart training makes all the difference, not good genes.
But hard work does not necessarily lead to performance.
Performance versus accomplishment
We can accomplish without performing
Accomplishment is personal – achieving a goal, no need to be fast!
Performance is about excelling
Performing is being at the top of your game but you don’t need to be an Olympian or a record holder:)
Performance is hard work, it’s getting better, faster, stronger, to be able to endure more, longer, to repeat and still perform.
Many athletes put tremendous hours and energy into their training but unfortunately will never attain a level to be able to perform and mainly due to poor training methods.
What makes a difference:
A love for the sport and the will to train hard
Great focus: 100% on when training and able to be 100% off when recovering
Discipline: consistency with training, maintenance and recovery
You accomplish more as a team
To be surrounded by a team is a bonus not a necessity, it can help in areas that are crucial to progress as an athlete and to stay injury free.
For example; physiotherapist, sport specific coach, prehab trainer, massage therapist and so on.
Training with someone stronger then us or similar level is very important even if you compete in an individual sport. Find yourself a partner you can meet every week or 10 days and do a quality session, it will improve your speed, mental edge, resistance to fatigue and much more!
What an athlete needs help with:
Physical treatment for quicker recovery: toxin release, joint mobility, trigger points, myofascial release to name a few.
Sport specific form and strengthening
Diet, meal planning and digestion
You don’t need sponsorship to perform!
What works against performing:
Needing external motivation
The scarce resource is human ability and the value comes from the mind and not from muscles.
Cross-training and performance
Cross-training is at times a misunderstood concept, for sure it’s important to practice different sport either in one season or taking advantage of the changing season. But when it comes to performance it’s a different story. First and foremost if you want to perform in your sport you need to train year round!
For example if your main sport is trail running and you pick up ski rando and barely do any running in the winter it’s not ski rando that will make you run faster and more economical in the spring. On the other end if the athlete picks up skinning uphill as a training mode and actually does intensity hill repeats, steady state training that will generate physiological adaptation in the off season that can be beneficial comes spring time.
Cross training can help switch your weaknesses into strength.
Many trail runners are challenged when running uphill and it can be a performance limitation for many. If we look at mountain biking or skate skiing when you are at the bottom of a climb there is no way you can just back off (like runners can do) to move up that hill, you have to hammer or else you will stop or go backwards:) Versus ski touring you can climb slow like walking a hill versus running. Get it?!
For myself I don’t think I ever cross-trained:) I simply train and compete in different sports simply because I love them all. I raced mountain bikes for a decade, I do winter expeditions and I’ve been competing in ultra running for over three decades. Winter after winter I train on my skate skis 4-5 times a week on top of ski mountaineering. My race running season would be from March to November but always ran year round and mountain biking would be 12 months and the length of my ski season would be dependable on precipitation and temperatures.
Some advantages I found:
Mountain biking gave me the power output to climb hard and repeat plus a mental drive to love the pain.
Ultra running gives me massive strength for the distance and to endure longer.
The winter expeditions gave me resilience to deal with harsh conditions, extreme cold, self sufficiency, focus, to not slow down and to never give up.
Skate skiing takes care of many musculoskeletal imbalances I can get from running and provides my body with great intensity training, leg oxygenation, power and strength for the up and coming trail season.
Vertical training on my skis is a blend of all of the above.
A good friend of mine is a pro high altitude climber training for 8000m ascents. He has regular endurance & interval sessions on a stair masters with a 30kg pack, he will also spend time at the climbing gym improving technique, power and strength, and he also prioritize prehab- working on drills and exercises to correct his musculoskeletal imbalances. The only way he can stay at the top of his sport.
To benefit from cross-training you need:
A good level of fitness in that sport
To perform proper technique: not to be a beginner having a hard time moving forward:)
Practice the sport minimum 3x week
Variation in pace and training format
A runners needs to do more then running to perform
A climber needs to do more then climbing to perform
A skier needs to do more then skiing to perform
Aging and performance
We often hear ‘I gain more endurance with age’ or “I’m getting fitter the older I get’
Is this right?
As the body ages, it undergoes changes in function. One change is the decrease in maximal heart rate recommended during aerobic activity. This in turn lowers overall cardiac output and the body’s ability to take in and utilize oxygen during exercise. There’s no getting around it, aging decreases fitness level.
How does one explain athletes who perform better as they age?
Studies of elite runners show that runners who train at more intense thresholds throughout their life span show less decrease in VO2max over time and have greater muscular oxygenation than those who’s training levels off or declines. Training to increase VO2max requires near maximal effort over a sustained period of several minutes. Repeated training allows adaptation of the cardiovascular system as it becomes more efficient. While nothing can turn back the clock a veteran athletes can still improve VO2max and stall the effects of aging. But once again only if that individual has been training under those principles for many years.
That said if you are 45 years old and have been training for 5 years you might feel you are gaining endurance simply because you were not training regularly before, so you are gaining in fitness. That is different, you can still adapt and run long distance but are you getting faster for the distance? this is the key!
Why do I bring age when talking about performance? Very simple
Performance is all about quality methods of training and truly understanding the physiological adaptation needed to attain a higher level of performance, which is beyond this article. That said performance is not limited by age, the main factors is prior years of consistent high intensity training and present training.
Never too late to get started!
Biggest factors that limit performance:
Overuse injuries – lack of recovery, too much volume or poor technique
Low muscle mass
Poor or ineffective training methods
Too much volume at low intensity
What helps performance:
Strength, power output, oxygenation and ability to recover.
Muscles gives you strength, resistance to fatigue and it’s a great glycogen storing machine!
Cross training is a key component especially in the off season, but you will only benefit if you follow the above guidelines.
My relationship with training as always been and still is about quality, I always leave the door knowing the objective of the workout and give 100% of myself. I’ve been training for over thirty years and where I feel the biggest effect of aging is in the recovery, I need more!
Never too late to get started!
Everyone can perform, if you feel you can’t give it a chance, it might be deep somewhere within yourself waiting to be explore. Even some of the best athletes out there have health issues and find a way to cross that barrier. With pure drive, hard work and great energy you can make it happen!
An example to Get inspired:
In the 2018 UTMB there were 2561 entry, 1771 did not finish due to poor training and/or poor race strategies; hydration, fueling, dealing with the cold temperatures. That said close to half of the ones that finished almost walk the entire distance so that leaves around 900 participants. Around 200 ‘elite’ finished under 32hrs. So you have 700 runners left you can compete with. Most recreational runner would never think they can do top 500 in UTMB but if you follow good performance training guidelines you can, and that goes for all disciplines and sports – Just do it!
Being real good at whatever we want to do is among the deepest sources of fulfillment we will ever know.
Thanks for reading… Chloë
Monthly educational articles for the passionate mountain athlete.