Hard versus intense effort

I have a few more months to finish my second book, Sans limites (Guérin 2022). I’m writing on content that has fascinate me for decades both as an athlete and professionally : The Brain of the endurance athlete, not the title but the focus !

So here is a little 5% taste.

If I would ask you how you would define in a few words your efforts while training what would it be ?
Think for a bit before you continue reading.
Write a few words to describe your efforts.

Usually we define our efforts around feelings. The beauty of sports it can bring us from the highest highs of feeling alive and empowered to feeling discourage or disappointed. Sometimes in a mater of minutes :)))

Effort is often overlooked but important to understand your mind and body, and to better manage your training and racing strategies.

There is two kind of active efforts : hard and intense
A hard effort describes the physical output of a workout, while an intense effort relates to the emotional approach.

A hard effort is when you have to work physically to maintain a certain pace, running uphill, running on a ridge against a head wind, trying to follow someone faster than you.

A hard effort is when you are pushing yourself physically.

An intense effort is your state of mind during training and racing
. It’s all about the emotions traveling through your mind in that moment. From feeling pressured, frustrated or energized for example.

It can work in your favor or against it.

Some emotions will be energizing, others unpleasant and can become toxic in the long term. It’s about being receptive. To manage them is key.

We drive on emotions but emotions are feelings and not always the truth.

Fatigue is the same, it’s an emotion. Think of how many times in a week you use the word fatigue to describe your state- But are you really fatigued ?

It can also be an excuse versus a real reason, finding excuses to quite, when the effort becomes too intense to handle (emotionally not physically).
An excuse to DNF, to turn around, or bail on a workout with a friend, to stay in bed instead of running and on the couch after work.

The main reason why so many runners do not finish the UTMB.
They did not train for the required effort.
They trained for the distance, not for the emotional intensity and the physical demand.
Many simply don’t train enough-

As an athlete it’s primordial to differentiate both effort. We also need to incorporate both in training. 
Learn to push yourself more if you never do. Run with the local club even if you feel insecure, run alone even if it’s harder find motivation, train when it’s cold, rainy or dark.

Don’t let your emotions limit your physical potential.
Every workout you want to bail, go, don’t procrastinate, you will feel so much better each time.

You will gain confidence, experience, fulfillment and get fitter !

Think of your last workout you didn’t feel great, was the reason physical or emotional ?

You can do the same workout (same pace and route) two days in a row and have total different sensation even if your physical body is in the same state. That said it’s the intensity of your emotions that will perceive a harder effort, when it’s actually not. You’re in a race and start feeling discourage, people passing you (meanwhile you have a perceived effort of leg fatigue), remind yourself you are  influenced by feelings, focus on your pace.

See your emotions like the wind, they can come in strong but they come and go.

Know you are more than you think you are.

I suggest you record in a journal both efforts after each workout. It’s an interesting way to see your effort patterns, create awareness.
Did you feel a flow and enjoyment ?
Was your mind drifting into anxiety and stress of your day ?
Physically powerless or just drained mentally ?

If you feel fatigue during a workout try to speed up slightly, feel better ?!

I know people that have great fitness but their insecurities interferes. They feel weaker than everyone so they won’t show up not to slow down the group, or never enter a race (even if they would like to) in fear of finishing last, or simply uncomfortable with their body.

Running is a very supportive community, either trail or road, almost every town & city have a club or a gym to join. Many stores do weekly, monthly runs, join !
A support group really helps, bonus you make friends !

Calmness is also important when we exercise, get inspired to get out alone, in your own space, let go of your brain telling you all the reason why you shouldn’t. Enjoy, push yourself also, get the legs moving quicker, focus on being light. Go grab a coffee afterwards in your running clothes and write in your journal !

A few tips
Try to start your workout stress free, leave it at home.
Focus on the surrounding, relax your mind and enjoy being physical.
Don’t forget to breath, exhale when effort gets intense.
Moving creates good energy, increase circulation and stimulates endorphins.

Some people always push hard, all their training is intense.
They train like they compete.

Everything is a competition. They have to prove they are the fastest, they always lead in a group run and can never train at an easy pace. I’ve known people in my life that I couldn’t stand training with, it would turn out into an epic mental race- who would quit first, never them.

Always pushing the intensity is traumatic for the nervous system and it suppresses the immunity. Think of muscle fiber tears, the same can happen to your nervous system. The side effects are not visible at first and they can show up years later or only after a few months. This article is too short to go into specifics. Pushing like mad in training can also suppress the heart, increases the chance of disease and obviously lowers race results.

A few year back I was at the finish line of UTMB and saw a runner finishing in the top 25, a running coach I know. He was mad and in rage of his result, hitting things and speaking loud to himself. It was the most uncomfortable finish I ever witness, even the announcer turned around and walk away. Sad. It was horrible sportsmanship. Obviously he was very dissatisfied with his result- the next day one of his runner told be he was disappointed that he did not perform better for his sponsors, he felt like he let them down !!!
What ? You finish in the top 25 at UTMB and you are a failure !

This is a perfect example of pure pressure he puts on himself. First of all no companies put that kind of pressure on ultra runners (we are not in a professional sport with purse money). When a top elite DNF or gets injured they are very supported. It was simply an excuse for not finishing with the top guys. It does not take away his talent, he is a very strong runner, just not fit enough to be in the top ten that year. Nothing wrong with that.

The pressure he puts on himself translate in a failure mentality. Some people will DNF if they can’t podium and others bail on taking a race start feeling too much pressure. Obviously there is more to it but this is not a sport psychology essay but a simple article on effort.
You can see how intense effort comes in all shape.

We train to progress, we adapt, we competing to test our progress, we learn, reevaluate, reboot, fine-tune our fitness andwe  keep on progressing and adapting.

The most amazing sensation is to feel the hard effort effortless and enjoying the intensity of the moment.

Often what we do in a race is everything we don’t do in training, that’s what racing is all about, it’s an experiment to see what we can deliver.

Many runners have the no pain no gain mentality , it’s not something I recommend.
There is a balance to reach. Destroying yourself on a race course might work once but will probably have recapitulation (injury, overtraining) and especially in distance racing it’s the worst strategy to succeed. You can push yourself at a very high level without this mentality.

Unlock your potential by simply understanding and acting on your efforts. Learn to push yourself and to back off. It’s all about balance. Rewire your running !

It’s not about mental strength but brain elasticity ????

Be a stride forward… and remember fatigue is an emotion

Enjoy the taste of effort, it’s a privilege.

My book will be available April 2022, published by Guérin-Paulsen. I hope this small intro inspired you to venture into your active efforts.


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