The Benefits of Boredom
We’re endurance athletes. We train our bodies to work at sustainable levels of output over long periods of time. Even a sprint race lasts an hour or so. (As compared to a sprint race in running or swimming, we’re not really sprinting, we’re out on the course a LOT longer than athletes in other sports.) Preparing for races that are two to five to 15 or more hours long means some long workouts. And some of that training can be monotonous, even boring. And that’s okay. It’s even better than okay, it can be very good!
Coaches will do our best to mix up the training and try to keep our athletes’ plans interesting by including variation within workouts as well as from day-to-day and week-to-week. Sure, you may always have a swim scheduled on a Monday because that’s a good day for you to get to the pool (although that Monday workout is usually different each week). But let’s face it: some endurance training is boring.
Most athletes generally don’t look forward to indoor training: running to nowhere on the treadmill or riding in place or following the black line in the pool like a fish in a tank. But indoor training can reap very big benefits. Sessions can be fine-tuned and focused. There’s no coasting on the trainer and there are no stop lights to interrupt your intervals. Many of the variables that exist outdoors are eliminated. There’s no wind or rain to deal with. Longer intervals are not a problem and, with the right equipment and software, you can pre-program your workout (or your coach can). If you live in the flatlands but your coach programs a hill run workout, the treadmill will be happy to oblige.
While there are some very elite triathletes who have noted in recent years that they rarely ride or run outdoors except when they’re racing, I think a healthy mix is generally the best answer. So whether you’re forced indoors (by the weather or your schedule or any other factor) or you’re ramping up for long course racing and see the the outdoor two hour run or five hour ride on your schedule, how should you handle the potential boredom factor?
Let me first state the obvious. Many athletes will watch TV or movies, listen to music or podcasts, or invite a friend over to the pain cave. All of these are fine solutions to help the time pass when indoors. I’ve certainly watched my share of Breaking Bad, House of Cards, The Americans, and other binge-worthy pleasures while on the treadmill in my basement! But make no mistake, these are distractions. You’re taking the focus off of the work you’re doing and putting it onto something else (the screen or your earbuds).
For outdoor training, especially on the bike, I recommend strongly AGAINST wearing earbuds or listening to anything at all. You need all of your senses to stay safe and the ability to hear an approaching car is critical to staying alive out there! For long runs, wearing one earbud may be safe depending on where you’re running. Listening to music while running can be uplifting and motivating, it may help you run longer or faster. But you may also find that your turnover changes depending on the beat of the song. And the mental assist that you may come to rely on during your long run or hard efforts won’t be there for you on race day.
What to do instead? Give up your distractions. You don’t have to go without for every workout but I recommend at a minimum that you skip them for your long ride and run as well as your highest intensity workouts.
Pick something to focus on during your workout. That may be a particular element of your form/technique or your breathing pattern or your cadence. You can even focus on the pain, practice managing it. Whatever it is, dedicate all of your brain power to that focus. This is the best advice if you want to get faster, it’s not enough simply to do more. You have to do it better.
Try something different for indoor training. Use a VASA trainer or try riding on rollers. You won’t need to be distracted if applying your brain to simply balancing the bike becomes a critical factor in your workout!
Let your mind wander. Not all of your great ideas have to be thought up in the shower. Endurance athletes have hours available for thinking. Think of it as meditation on the move. Pick a particular subject, maybe work or family-related, and work it out as you work out.
Run scenarios in your mind. During an interval, visualize yourself gaining on an imaginary athlete in front of you. Picture yourself catching and passing that athlete, then the next one. By the time you get to race day, you’ll have “caught” and “passed” a lot of people! It becomes second nature, it’s what you do.
Embrace the boredom. In some ways, this may be the most important take-away here, particularly for full-distance athletes. One of the challenges of race day is managing the boredom while still staying focused on your plan. If you train for it, you’re in a better position to execute it when the clock is on you.
Coach Dave looks at coaching from a holistic perspective. He understands first-hand that triathletes typically have substantial demands in their lives outside of training and racing. He makes it a priority to understand what’s going on in an athlete’s life beyond triathlon in order to build a plan that is smart, fits their lifestyle, and builds toward appropriate goals!