Watts vs Feel: Anatomy of a Breakdown

Wednesday's workout seemed like a huge challenge.
My task was to go all out for one hour. But more than that, I had a specific watt number to aim for. There is a constant discussion about whether it is better to go by feel in training or use numbers as a carrot, indicator, and motivator. I was under the impression that my mind needs numbers. Well, Wednesday I found out that I was wrong. 

The Set Up:

I went in feeling really prepared. My mind was in a good place, I was and felt excited to see the challenge, embrace the challenge and use the opportunity to see what I am capable of. I had written myself a little note for motivation, set up my trainer, my fan, my hydration and started the warm up. During the warm up I could already sense that my body seemed a little sluggish. I still had some residual soreness from the weekend, and I could just tell this one was going to be a slug. But I refocused and told myself “Yes I can and I will.” 

The start of the session:

After a 30 minute warm up I set up the gears and start pushing a heavy gear. If the average was 240w that I was aiming for, I should probably warm my way up to my threshold power. But instead, I go 10% above the threshold. 10 minutes in, I am in so much agony that I stop. I could tell there was no way, that I could maintain anywhere close to 240, at least today. I felt like a complete failure and incapable. All my positive feelings just left me, and in came the demons. I started crying and just felt terrible. I hate myself and wanted to give up.


2nd attempt:

I then looked up a workout on Trainer Road that mimicked what my work out was. I refocused and reset my intention. After another 20 minutes of warm up, I barely lasted 5 minutes. I just couldn't do it. 

Quitting:

On Wednesday I did quit. I gave up. I said I can’t do it, and instead of doing what I could do, I decided not to do anything. I texted my coach Siri, who seemed super upset. That didn’t help my feelings of failure. I step into a cold shower just to calm down my brain. 

The Return Of My True Self:

As I laid in bed feeling sorry for myself, my usual confidence came back rather quickly. I had to be somewhere that was on a hill and roughly a one hour ride away from where I was. It was the perfect opportunity to turn this day around.  I could use that appointment to time trial and ride as hard as I can to that location. I got up, put my big girl pants on (my new Ale orange flu high viz top) and rolled out. With happy music in my years, I pushed up the hill and rode hard. 

 
But First....Coffee.

But First....Coffee.

 

Arrived:

I had a huge grin on my face after I arrived. I felt so accomplished! I felt proud that I got back up and turned this day around and completed the workout to the best of my ability.  The average watts was no surprise to me. It was in fact 10% LESS of what I was capable of. And that is truly how I that day. I just didn't have my maximum ability. And that is ok.

 
 

Conclusion:

I think I have to correct myself when I think my brain needs numbers. I actually now agree with my coach Siri, and that numbers do not work for me. It is good to know a rough number, but what is the purpose of numbers, if this is what happens to my focus, energy, confidence, and motivation? 

This is actually pretty freeing. That doesn't mean I won't collect numbers, but I won't use them to gauge my efforts and success rate.


The most important thing in training is consistency and giving your 100% each day. If proper planning is done, you will peak for race day. Other than that, the amount of mental focus you put forth is more important than hitting numbers. We are not machines, we don’t perform the same each day. It is just a fact of being human. 

My take-a-ways and what I want to give to you:

A successful session is defined by giving your 100% on any given day, staying in the moment, finding the focus and pushing through the challenges of that day. If you can say that you did all you could and did the work, then you should feel successful and validated in your efforts.

Your goal should be to be consistent in training, to love it, to love the grind and the process of it. This is probably the hardest lesson to learn in this sport. I am 5 years into this amazing journey now and I think, I finally understood it.