(Note: You might remember when I alluded to another experiment in order to test the results that we determined during the fight-fighting testing I was a part of (click HERE). The premise being that if overall improvement in extremely hot and shitty environments is more a mental thing than it is physical, how do you improve someone’s mental ability exactly? This is that experiment.)
For the past two years, I’ve had the fortunate – or ‘unfortunate’, depending on how you want to look at it – opportunity to participate as a research volunteer at the Brock University Kinesiology Department. This department, headed by Dr. Stephen Cheung, also just happens to be on the cutting edge of sporting science, so getting to be a test monkey as part of something with that scope of importance is a real privilege in my opinion.
Anyway, as such, I’ve undergone some pretty intense experiments in the past, both physically and mentally, in order to improve our understanding of human performance and the limits of our endurance. I’ve had various sharp pointy things inserted into my arm, had my body scrutinized and measured for all posterity, seen my precious life fluids including blood and sweat (and tears for that matter) vacated forcibly from my body, and been subjected to insane heat and humidity in that god forsaken oven (click HERE for a lengthy recap). Basically I’ve stoically suffered whatever tortures and indignities that were deemed as either important or necessary to the project, and probably some that weren’t but only served to further humor my tormentors.
Just kidding, of course, they’re really nice guys…I think.
Oh, and let’s not forget the probe.
So when I got the message from Phil, the Principle Student Investigator (PSI), asking me to undergo yet another run of the gauntlet, it was with mixed emotions that I accepted the invite. Shit, after that last firefighters test, surely, I can endure anything (nearly a year later, it’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of being cooked alive). I’m not really sure what it says about me as a person that I like, no love, being a part of scientific testing that is in part geared towards breaking you down physically and mentally in order to see what makes you tick. Truthfully, I think I may be developing some bizarre case of sado-masochistic pleasure from performing as a lab rat and I’m sure there will be some professional counseling in my near future.
All that aside, I agreed to participate in the latest (and greatest) ‘Effects of Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance and Cognitive Function in the Heat’ study.
Doesn’t that sound like a real page turner?
In a nutshell, the test is designed to determine whether or not a psychological intervention can improve endurance performance and cognitive function in the heat. Oh goodie. I’m good with my limited athletic prowess being exposed but, well, let’s just say that what lies between these two ears may not exactly paint a pretty picture. In other words, I’m hoping that this research doesn’t also expose me as being a total and complete moron.
What have I gotten myself into?
Day 1: Anthropometric Measurements, Cognitive Tests and Maximal Aerobic Capacity Testing
This is sure going to suck to get off
Similar to the other studies I’ve been part of, it’s necessary to get a baseline of my physiology and athletic ability. What this really means is that they’re going to poke and prod my body fat and then subject me to approximately 15 minutes of torture on a bike.
The differences this time around is that 1) there were no cute female PhD students to do the actual poking and prodding of fat folds (thank GOD!), and 2) I also had to complete an initial assessment of my cognitive abilities by answering a questionnaire and then work on what’s known as a “Purdue Pegboard”.
Sadly, it has nothing to do with pirates.
The first “anthropometric measurements” step is no big deal as this certainly isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to having my fat marked up with a Crayola marker and then being pinched with cold metal instruments; no sweat. The second step with the “Purdue Pegboard” was certainly more entertaining though.
Now, if you consult the Interweb thingee you will learn:
“The Purdue Pegboard is a neuropsychological test of manual dexterity and bimanual coordination created by Dr. Joseph Tiffin, an Industrial Psychologist at Purdue University, designed the test in 1948.”
Now that’s all well and good but, really, what it is? Well, what it really means is that I have to build little “castles” out of little metal pieces (“pins”, “collars” and “washers”) to test the gross movements of my arms, hands, and fingers, and my fine motor extremity, also called “fingerprint” dexterity.” Poor Pegboard performance is a sign of deficits in complex, visually guided, or coordinated movements that are likely mediated by circuits involving the basal ganglia. Yeah, yeah, I already hear you: “What’s ‘basal ganglia’ Terry”?
It sounds dirty, I know.
Basal ganglia are little nuclei in the brain that are strongly associated with a variety of functions including: control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, routine behaviors or “habits” such as bruxism (excessive grinding of the teeth and/or excessive clenching of the jaw), eye movements, cognition and emotion.
To start, I was given three attempts to build as many little metallic castles as I could within a 60 second period. A castle consists of 4 parts, 1 pin, 1 collar, 2 washers for a total score of 4 points if completed successfully. So, say, if six complete assemblies are made then your total score would be 24. But if a castle is incomplete, then you only score 1 point for each part that was properly assembled. If, say, only the 1 washer and pin on a seventh castle are properly placed you add each part separately (i.e. 24 plus 2, or 26 total); something like that anyway, I dunno. I’m no rocket scientist – clearly. If you really want more information on how to score this damn thing click HERE, but all you really need to know is that in three attempts my best score on the pegboard was 34, which probably puts me somewhere between a coconut and a chimpanzee.
Pass the banana.
Anyway, time for the main attraction.
Bring on the oven.
I’ve been through this same test once before coming off my Ironman peak in 2013, and given (I feel) that my fitness hasn’t been particularly on point since that time, I was little apprehensive about what today’s results were going to say about my current fitness. I’ve spent considerable time in the pool in the past six months and my run fitness is just beginning to come back after last year’s total and complete breakdown at the Incredoubleman Triathlon but I haven’t really spent any considerable time on the bike. I spin 2-3 times a week with one session being a tough 90 minute Master’s class but, aside from that that, I haven’t focused too much on it instead preferring to wait for the nicer weather before amping up my cycling program. So, yeah, what my fitness level is going to be as a result of being on the Velotron bike is anybody’s guess.
Remember then that the entire point of this test is to have my level of aerobic fitness determined through an actual scientific means. To do that I am fixed with a soft silicone face mask to breathe through to the point of exhaustion in order to obtain my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and maximum heart rate. The improvement this time around is that the lab has been reequipped with a fancier and better fitting mask that wasn’t quite so uncomfortable or difficult to breathe in.
Check it out.
Am I beautiful or what?
Once the test began, I was required to warm up at 100 watts on the Velotron for 3 minutes before 25 watts were added each minute until the point of total burnout. Everything felt pretty good for the first 11 or 12 minutes or so, as what time I do spend on the bike I train at my 75-80% threshold level. But by the 13 minute mark (350 watts) I was clearly suffering and shortly after passing the 14 minute mark (375 watts), I tapped out.
Here are the results:
This result is, well, as odd as it was unexpected. After analyzing the data, it was determined that my Absolute VO2 equated to 3.10 l/min, which represents a HUGE improvement of 0.93 l/min over my last test. My relative VO2peak , however, only improved by a minimal amount to 41.9 ml/kg/min (rounded to 42.0 ml/kg/min).
Why you ask?
The short answer is because I’m fat; nearly 22 lbs worth.
Now, had I maintained my Ironman weight from just over three years ago, theoretically speaking, my VO2peak would have been approximately 46 ml/kg/min, or in the “Superior” classification as opposed to today’s meager “Good” effort. Or would it?
There is also the theory that by losing too much weight I will also lose some of the strength I’ve acquired; what to do…what to do.
So, yeah, basically, the official result is that I’m fatter but fitter. Go figure. This is definitely going to factor in later this year when I begin to strategize about what my “ideal” race weight should be. Do I focus on dropping weight and therefore roll the dice in regards to maintaining my current level of fitness, or do I focus more on improving my fitness at (or around) my current level of fatness?
To summarize, I now have lots of motivation to improve this result through the quickly approaching coming season as I start to build into more speed/pace based workouts. I may never be up there with the greats (click HERE), but in my own mind I’m already becoming a legend.
Day 2: Familiarization Testing
Its one week later and I’m back in the lab ready for the first familiarization session. The thing is that this time around I’m also playing Dad as I have HRH in tow because, hey, what 10-year-old girl doesn’t love watching her half naked step dad being fixed up with wires and electrodes prior to being tortured in a meat locker? It may not exactly be a picnic lunch at the zoo but, still, good times.
The real crazy thing is that she was actually looking forward to seeing me “suffer” and had been talking about for days in advance. I’m not sure what I’ve done as a parent to warrant this kind of excitement but, whatever, she’s along for the ride today.
According to the Consent Form:
“A familiarization trial will be scheduled prior to the commencement of the two experimental sessions to ensure that you are able to fulfill the requirements of the exercise protocol.”
It get’s a wee bit humid.
You can basically interpret this as a “Hey, this is how bad it’s going to suck. Think you can handle it tough guy?” type of statement.
The session is intended to be identical to the actual experimental session to follow in a few weeks. The environmental chamber (aka “the oven”) will be set to 35°C with 50% relative humidity, which may not seem like a lot but, believe me, it is.
To begin with, there’s the usual “preparation” routine that I’ve been through before on the other two testing sessions. This process involves having all my baseline measurements done and providing a urine sample to record my over all body euhydration (normal state of body water content), not to mention getting all fixed up to a bevy of instruments including skin temperature/heat flow censors and, yes, there is that rectal probe to deal with as well (Oh, and for the record I didn’t exactly let HRH in on the probe thing as, well, it didn’t seem like it was something appropriate to “bond” over). Fortunately though, this whole probe business is old hat by this point.
Okay, maybe not quite like that.
No, I won’t say it’s like being reunited with an old friend but, well, let’s just say that if this whole lab rat thing doesn’t work out I definitely have a promising future as a drug mule.
Once I was all connected up, I also needed to establish a baseline for my overall mood using a Brunel Mood Scale (BRUMS) Questionnaire. The BRUMS is a 24-item questionnaire of simple mood descriptors such as angry, nervous, unhappy, and energetic. It has six subscales, with each of the subscales containing four mood descriptors including anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, and vigor. For the record, my mood was pretty good. Again what this says about me as a person in that I enjoy being experimented on I’m not really sure. But I digress.
Groton maze testing
Following the questionnaire, I was required to work through a Cognitive Test Battery (CTB) on a computer tablet to assess my cognitive abilities. These tests (designed by Cogstate Research) consist of what’s known as a ‘Groton Maze Learning Task’, a ‘Detection Task’, and a ‘Two Back Task’.
The ‘Groton Maze Learning Task’ (actually a series of two tests, ‘Maze Learning’ and ‘Set Shifting Task’) tests my executive functions which include working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving abilities. The ‘Detection Task’ which, easily enough, required me to hit a single key on the keyboard whenever the Joker on a deck of cards appears on the desktop (Disclaimer: it appears every time), tests my reaction time, while the ‘Two Back Task’ tests my working memory and attention skills.
Now, given my current lacking of technical prowess given I don’t owe a cell phone so I don’t text or play video games, etc., these tablet tests – while still basic – took some time general getting used to. I’m sure for HRH it must have been like watching the monkey’s with the obelisk in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Basically, I felt like whatever banana I had earned with the Purdue Pegboard on my last visit to the lab was just taken away from me. I hate computers and computer testing at the best of times and I wasn’t terribly confident in how I performed and, in my mind, I think I might have even heard monkeys laughing at me.
Purdue Peg Board
Computers just arn’t my jam.
Anyway, after the cognitive tests were complete (20 minutes or so) it was time to get in the oven; time to suffer.
Suffer I can do.
The trial protocol consisted of two exercise bouts, and two identical rest periods during which I would do more cognitive testing. Throughout the protocol I had to wear the same soft-silicon mask that I wore during the V02-Max test to continue to monitor my ventilation and metabolic data throughout the two exercise rounds. And, not to jump too far ahead, but this would inevitably be the worst part when the heat and humidity began to kick in.
The first exercise protocol consisted of a 5 minute cycling warm up at 100 watts followed by 25 minutes set to 60% of my “Peak Performance Output” (PPO) that we determined during the VO2-Max test last week (210 watts). Compared to my past runs in the oven, this particular session didn’t hold a candle “suffer-wise”. That’s not to say however that is was “easy” either. No, spinning in that kind of hot and humid environment while wearing and breathing through a silicon tube is never fun and soon enough the sweat began to pour.
And let me tell you when all you have it this to focus on:
Time grinds down to an absolute haul, let me tell you. My only reprieve from the whole thing was seeing HRH’s face appear periodically in the oven’s window as she peeked in to monitor my “suffering”. So after 30 minutes of spinning, sweating and playing peek-a-boo, I was removed from the bike, weighed, and draped in a bright yellow rain poncho to preserve my core temperature as much as possible.
If I wasn’t sweating before, I sure as shit was now!
I felt like a BBQ-ed steak that had been left out to rest.
During this rest period (30 minutes) I wasn’t allowed to leave the oven, but asked to perform the same mood (BRUMS) and cognitive (CTB) tests as before. From what I recall, neither my mood or cognitive abilities with the tests changed much; I was still happy and dumb as mud.
The second exercise bout was intended to be a “Time to Exhaustion (TTE)” test performed at 80% of my PPO (280 watts) after an initial 5 minute warm up at 125 watts. The premise is very easy: cycle your ass off until you drop. Yup, this was definitely going to suck.
Basically, it works like this: exercise (i.e. my suffering) would only stop due to volitional fatigue, if my cadence should drop below 60 rpm for more than 5 seconds, or my core temperature reaches 40°C for 1 minute (talk about “hot shit”!), or my heart rate exceeded 95% of my maximum for 3 minutes. So basically, anything that indicates you’re mere seconds away from death itself would count as viable grounds for stoppage. Awesome! Furthermore, there was to be no motivation queues provided aside from being asked for my RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) on the Borg Scale (taped to the wall in front of me) every 2 minutes.
Making matters worse, is that the whole thing was being filmed.
But that will have to wait for another post.
I had assumed at the time that the best strategy was to begin spinning slowly at approximately 65-70 rpm figuring that I could maintain that particular cadence for a while. The problem being (or so I learned anyway), was that once I began to fade there really wasn’t much wiggle room in regards to lowering my cadence any, which is exactly what happened.
Everything went fine initially and I felt pretty good, despite the conditions and mask and stuff, but when I began to struggle cardio-wise, it was quick, slippery slope into painful torment. Part of the problem is that as a requirement of the test, I wasn’t able to stand up at any point. Usually, on the road when you climb in a heavy gear you can give yourself a quick break by shifting the primary working muscle group by standing up and then being seated again. Here, there was none of that; it was ass in the saddle all the way. So when my working muscles started to go, they went…fast.
Now I have no idea how long I lasted, but I’m estimating approximately 10-12 minutes including the warm up based on how many times my RPE were requested. Of course, it might have been 30 seconds…who knows. In essence, though, it went something like this:
Just like that.
Die I did, much to HRH’s enjoyment.
I will admit, I was a bit disappointed with myself and I made a mental plan to last longer by incorporating a quicker cadence to start off with and then gradually wind ‘er down when the legs begin to fail afterwards; more on that strategy to come.
Anyway, immediately following this, it was time to don the poncho and complete another round of mood and cognitive testing. This time, however, it was significantly more difficult I can assure you. In fact, the ‘Two Back Test’ pretty much kicked my ass and I was more or less just tapping at the keyboard with reckless abandon. I was hot, uncomfortable, and didn’t really give a shit if the card was a Queen, Jack, or 10 of Spades. I simply didn’t give a shit, nor could I if I wanted to. However, I think I did make the ‘Groton Maze Learning Test’ my bitch. Again…go figure.
Only time will tell I suppose.
Day 3: Experimental Session #1
Now that the preliminary VO2peak and familiarization sessions are over with, it’s time to get on with the real festivities; the actual exercise protocols themselves. Yup, it’s time to get medieval, time to officially put my suffering in the books, it’s go time, or whatever other popular euphemism you wish to use to associate with the underlying message of “time to put or shut up”.
Needless to say, everything else up to this point was just for shits n’ giggles.
Anyway, by now the whole pee, probe and final shuffle of shame are just part of the ordinary “business as usual” drill, every bit as routine as brushing your teeth in the morning. Of course, I’m not shoving flexible core thermometers up my ass most mornings, but I digress.
There is very little else to describe at this point that I haven’t already haven’t discussed in the previous familiarization session; 30 minutes set to 60% of my “Peak Performance Output” (210 watts) and a balls-to-the-wall “Time to Exhaustion (TTE)” test performed at 80% of my PPO (280 watts). Before, between and after each exercise protocol there is also the series of cognitive tests that I’ve described already as well. Oh, and let’s not forget the yellow poncho to keep me as uncomfortable as possible – you know, just because. Seriously, you’d think these lab nerds lay awake at night under their Star Wars bed sheets conjuring up ways to torture me. Sometimes, I think this is all part of some elaborate ruse and at the bottom of some resume somewhere, there’s “making Terry suffer” listed underneath the heading ‘Interests and Hobbies’. Of course, I still willfully participate as a volunteer and no one is holding a gun to my head but when the going certainly turns shitty, well, let’s just say that sometimes I wonder.
As per usual, the only stimulus I am ever afforded are the three charts in front of me with which to gauge my RPE and overall discomfort. There’s no encouragement (visual or otherwise), no chuckles, no giggles…no nothing.
It’s all bid’ness.
How’s that for “comforting”, right?
Move over chimps.
Same as the previous familiarization session, the first 30 minutes are boring as all fuck; total bag of dicks where I sit pedaling aimlessly, breathing into my mask in the hot and humid environment and trying not to think about how incredibly boring and shitty it is. Basically, I just try to visualize my inner happy place from underneath my silicon mask which, for the record, just happens to be a nice pub in a remote countryside somewhere that serves decent beer, a complimentary bowl of nuts and an amazing cheeseburger. Just sayin’. Then I do some more cognitive testing on the tablet, sit around for a bit in the heat n’ shit and, finally, jump back on the bike for the eventual opening of the Gates of Hell.
Good times indeed.
I’d like to think I did a bit better this time around then I did in my familiarization session, but I had no real way to know for sure. All I know is that it sucked equally and unequivocally; ‘suck’ is the only constant variable in these types of tests. In fact, I tried a bit of a different approach to my TTE in that I periodically spun my cadence up a bit from time to time to try and take advantage of the momentum generated in the pedals (not that there’s much momentum on a Velotron bike, mind you) to rest a bit but, honestly, what little rest there was inconsequential to the constant punishment being inflicted on my quads and I eventually tapped out – as I do – thoroughly broken and exhausted.
Mental note to self: the worst part of the testing (inserting the probe) also turns out to be the best part when you get to remove it later. The lesson here though is to avoid any bowel movements prior to inserting for at least an hour or so before testing, otherwise you end up extracting something from your ass that looks like this:Sorry…I couldn’t resist.
So here’s where the interesting part comes in.
Following this first exercise protocol, participants are then randomly divided into two categories. For the Control group, nothing changes and in two weeks’ time they return to the oven to complete their second protocol just as before. The second Test group, of which I was selected, will have some additional homework to do in the days (week) before showing up to complete the second protocol.
That’s right – homework.
The premise goes along the lines that scientific studies have already proven that individuals tend to perform better when they feel confident and motivated during high-energy activity. They feel better about themselves and consequentially try harder and keep going when that going gets difficult.
I know, I know…”but everyone knows that already, Terry”. And I agree. But I think most often, people will tend to associate this type of motivational affirmation in this kind of light:
I know I did, or used to anyway.
But, in reality, it’s much more challenging than that.
Thinking happy thoughts
For me, this whole “positive self-talk” has proven to be a very difficult, particularly given some of the setbacks I’ve experienced lately. By comparison, I used to be able to tackle extremely difficult workouts prior to Ironman Wales simply by positively willing myself through them, but since then, I tend to beat myself up more with negativity; negativity regarding my not being able to perform at the same level, for not being in the same peak fitness, etc. You could say that my confidence has been rattled and while I accept that as part of the current path I’m on and, hopefully, my confidence will return at some point, in the meantime…I continue to struggle. I still persevere and do my best through all my prescribed workouts, but I’m not rocking them as I used to. I suspect that this negativity has a lot to do with it.
Lest we forget: click HERE.
So, consequentially, these negative thoughts are really doing me no favors…and Lord knows I have a lot of them. I am my own worst enemy in this regard. In fact, any negative thought I might have associated with the difficulty of the task, any unpleasant sensation that I might be experiencing or the level of effort and motivation towards the end goal during any moderate and high-intensity activities tend only to interfere with the optimal performance of the task. And God knows that cycling in that god forsaken oven would definitely qualify in all those categories.
So, I have now been officially tasked in identifying these negative thoughts and record them in what I am now referring to as my ‘Big Book of Suck’, and then counteract them with more beneficial motivational “self-talk” statements that will ultimately help maintain or improve my level of effort and coordinate my performance towards achieving the best possible performance; namely, surviving a single minute (or more) longer in the oven when the Gates of Hell are opened and the Suck begins to pile up.
On a personal note, the implications of this study are huge, as if I can determine what my “limiters” are motivation-wise through this exercise and then be able to counteract them with more positive inspirational self-talk, then I might be able to get myself back on my way to acquiring that same level of confidence that I had once before.
In this ‘Big Book of Suck’ there are some activities to help me craft my own unique motivation self-talk statements to use in the oven during both my exercise protocols, as well as my cognitive testing, when those other nasty negative comments begin to rear their ugly head and bubble to the surface.
The first thing to do is to identify examples of negative comments that cross my mind while I’m in the oven. Now, I told you before that when it comes to elf-depreciation, I am an absolutely black belt, so listing every negative thought that goes through my head during those 45 minutes or so in the oven was fairly easy. Likewise, there’s not enough bandwidth on these blog pages to list them all so I’ve captured a few of the more popular one’s for you:
- You’re out of shape
- What’s wrong with you?
- This sucks.
- I’m not good enough to be here.
- You’re a loser.
And the ever popular…
- I bet I look fat in these bib shorts.
When it came to the cognitive testing, the negativity was condensed into a single phrase: “You’re an idiot.”
It’s true. When it comes to beating myself up I’m a true artist; I’m the Rembrandt of self-depreciation. Negative commentary is just the primary tool with which I paint the wretched canvass of my soul.
You get the idea though right?
Anyway, the next activity in the booklet challenged me to come up with some more positive phrases that I could use instead of those common negative statements, like “hang in there”, “dig deep”, or “you’re a winner!” Sounds easy enough, right? Well, as it turns out, it’s not as easy as you might think given I am not accustomed to pumping myself up regularly with “you’re a winner”, so I found coming up with statements particularly tailored to my own motivational drive challenging indeed. But after considerable thought I came up with a few statements that I felt would be positive motivational when the wheels inevitably start to fall off.
The challenge now is to use, assess and then retool my suggested statements over the following week during 3 workouts, and then practice them to be as beneficial as possible come time to get back in the oven.
Here’s what I came up with for the exercise protocols:
- You can do this!
- Relax, focus and breathe
- Get tough!
- Just be calm and push on
Not exactly Shakespeare I agree, but they’ll do.
For the cognitive testing, I have two other statements:
- Just relax and focus
- Pass the banana
Okay, I’m totally kidding on the last one but, again, you get the idea.
Positive Phrasing Test #1:
Four days later I had my first trial of my motivational self-talk statements during a long 90 minute interval run. I haven’t really acquired my running legs yet so these long runs tend to be an exercise in pain and total self-depreciation which, fortunately, gives me the perfect chance to practice my positive phrasing.
The idea is to also detail when these negative statements begin to occur in the workout which, in this case, was about 30 nanoseconds into the run immediately following my stepping off the front porch:
“Oh God, this is going to suck”.
Okay, think positive statements:
“Just be calm and push on”.
It totally worked and I felt better.
Then another negative comment hit me again a minute later:
“Shit, that was only 5 minutes and you’re already winded? What the fuck?”
“Relax, focus and breathe”.
“You’re so slow you fat fuck”.
Okay, “Just be calm and push on…relax, focus and breathe….”
And so the internal dialogue went for the next 85 minutes. I know I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m actually amazed at how often my thoughts turned negative during the 90 minute period. I figure I was probably beating myself up with negativity approximately 8,897,798,990 times. Wow. It was being riddled with bullets from a Tommy gun.
The good news was that each time I became aware of that negativity, either of those planned motivational statements ended up bringing me back down to earth so that I was able to push through some intervals at both my half-marathon pace (5:30min/km) as well as my 5k pace (sub 5:00min/km). Truth be told, the positive “self-talk” seemed to be helping.
Positive Phrasing Test #2:
The next morning I was in the pool for a muscular endurance workout which involved some faster sprint pace intervals which, given I am currently building for a 10k swim in two more weeks, is not a regular feature of my swim workouts.
I’m a little more confident in my abilities in the pool so I wasn’t hit quite as soon or as often with the negativity as I was the day before on my long run, but when I started sprinting they sure started up in earnest. Two or three intervals in the first negative comment reared its ugly head:
“You’re tired. Maybe you should use the pull buoy instead”.
I see you, you sneaker fucker!
“Just be calm and push on….”
“Relax, focus, and……”
Shit, I couldn’t even remember what my second positive motivational phrase even given as I was too busy, you know, breathing. After all, staying alive is my top priority in the pool.
Neither statement seemed to be working. So I had to switch gears a bit and went with “You can do this!”, and “Just keep going!” These statements seemed to work a little better as they were more direct and easy to recall once my mind began to race and the negative commentary started to bombard my lizard brain.
Positive Phrasing Test #3:
Two days later and I’m in San Antonio, Texas and it’s hot as all fuck outside meaning my speed workout around Woodlawn Lake wasn’t going to be much more fun than the oven itself. Perfect testing ground for my next exercise protocol, wouldn’t you say?
Once I started off it was a bit difficult going in the early stages as I warmed up – literally and figuratively – as my lungs took some time to adjust to the heat and humidity and, for whatever reason, my legs felt weary after 48 hours of traveling. However, when the negativity started to hit I was well prepared:
“Just be calm and push on”.
“Relax, focus and breathe.”
Gettin er done.
Once I started with the actual speed intervals (8 x 400m), however, not so much. I ended up having to revert back to using the more direct statements just as I had in the pool. “You can do this!” still worked like a charm but, “Just keep going”, however, did not. It only made me want to check out my Garmin to see how far I’d gone and then when I realized I had only gone a certain distance, the negative commentary started back up with a vengeance. Instead, I retooled this last statement into “Get tough!” as I began each interval and that seemed to work a bit better. I continued to use “You can do this!” to see each interval through to the end.
An honorary mention also has to be made for: “Just get through this and you can have a cheeseburger”, but I decided that that’s probably not going to fly in the oven next week so it was left off the list.
So, in short, my plan of action come next Wednesday during my last exercise protocol is to use “Just be calm and push on” and “Relax, focus and breathe” to push through the first 30 minutes of the warm up to cope with the boredom and tediousness, then revert to the more direct and engaging “You can do this!” and “Get tough!” when my heart rate begins to elevate and the imminent shittiness begins to mount up during the last TTE.
As far as the cognitive testing goes, I am sticking with “Just relax and focus”; simple and elegant as it is.
Wish me luck.
God help me.
Day 3: Experimental Session #4
Not much about the whole lead into and set up for my second (and last) exercise protocol is different from the others with one notable exception: I brought the wrong cycling shoes.
Yup, upon pulling out of my parking lot at work, I realized that I had mistakenly brought the wrong cleats meaning I couldn’t use them with the pedals on the Velotron. In short, I was fucked and I started panic as I hated the thought of letting down the lab gurus by not being able to complete my second test protocol as planned; especially given all the work I’d done in crafting out my motivational statements.
But after a second or so of “oh shit!”, “how could you have fucked up like this?” and, of course, the ever popular “you’re a fucking idiot” running through my mind, I decided to take a different approach.
“Relax, focus and breathe”
Seconds later, I had pulled a U-turn into the parking lot of In.Cep.tion cycles, picked up an extra set of SPD pedal clips to match my misbegotten cleats and, Bob’s your uncle!, we’re back in business; In.Cep.tion with the save.
Hey, maybe this whole motivation self-talk might actually work.
Upon arriving, I ran the pee, probe and shuffle gauntlet, got weighed, got affixed with the usual heat sensors and electrode thingee’s, completed both my BRUMS questionnaire and base cognitive testing on the tablet (which, I am fairly confident went very well when I applied my positive self-talk statements) and minutes later I was in the oven ready to go.
I’m also noting here for the record that I was adequately hydrated for this session as two weeks before, for whatever reason, by hydration was pretty poor. In fact, my piss sample resembled the liquid version of Charlie’s Golden Ticket, so I was conscientious to hydrate today like a mofo to avoid that from happening again.
The goal today was to be cognizant of all my negative thoughts and, instead, use the motivational self–talk phrases I’ve been working on for the past week. The idea is to see what difference (if any) that provides to both my exercise sessions as well as my cognitive testing immediately following them. In other words, shit was about to get real and I was focused on proving that they worked as I generally believe they would.
It has to be said that the first 30 minutes at 60% (210 watts) of my PPO is the most tedious. I can deal with the 35°C temperature and 50% relative humidity, but it’s boring as all get out and very shortly into it the negativity started to creep in.
“This sucks”, “this is boring”, and “How much longer?”
No problem, I was prepared.
“Just relax, focus and breathe…just keep calm and push on…”
Worked like a charm.
One problem though. A piece of surgical tape used to secure my probe to the sumo sling I use to keep it, well, wedged up in my ass, had begun to rub under my Charlie Brown’s. Not pleasant. So with every pedal stroke there was this uncomfortable scratching going on under my nut sack. Yeah.
And let me tell you, trying to stay positive and think happy thoughts while your choda is being treated like a Lotto scratch ticket is not easy, like, at all. Lord knows I tried. Ultimately, I knew, boring as it was, I could do the first 30 minutes fairly easily so all I had to do was make it through that and then I could try and “readjust” myself afterwards prior to having to get back on the bike.
This is the face one makes when their scrotum is being rubbed raw.
However, despite my attempt to exist in my “happy place”, it was all pretty much in vain. After all, my happy place in that country pub does not include something coarse and scratchy down my pants. But I made the first 30 minutes successfully and, yes, I used my self-talk statements as much as possible.
When I dismounted the bike to don my rain poncho and complete my cognitive testing I tried my best to fix the issue. In the rare few moments I am actually alone in the oven I had both hands burrowed deep into my bib shorts and ferreting around like a squirrel digging for acorns, but to no avail.
The first round of cognitive testing I think went very, very well. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I made the tests my bitch, particularly the “Two Back” and “Groton Maze Learning” tasks. I’m not surprised really as I was very dialed in and focused using my “Just relax and focus” statement. For the rest of the 30 minute cool down (and I use that term loosely), I put my feet up and tried not to focus on the chafing beginning to happen under my balls.
I figured I could manage one last TTE but, then again, what choice did I really have?
Eventually, I mounted the bike for the last time and had the mask affixed to my head and I braced myself for the eventual suck to follow. I immediately reverted to my more calming and passive motivational statements to “get in the zone”, per se. I knew it was going to difficult (isn’t it always?) but I really wanted to do better and by “better”, that inevitably means “suffer”. It’s just the nature of the beast I’m afraid.
Finally the first 5 minute warm up at 125 watts began, and as soon as it did it started:
“God, my balls on fire!”
“Just relax, breathe and focus…”
“Just be calm and push on…”
Nope. Still on fire.
Okay, that worked…a bit.
Finally, the official TTE at 80% (280 watts) began in earnest and it was on.
Again with the negativity.
“Ho-lee shit”, “My legs hurt”, “My balls are burning” (not to be confused with the popular 80’s song ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Australian rockers Midnight Oil)…it was a total cacophony of self pity, remorse and intense bitchiness.
Fueled by “Get tough” and “You can do this!”, I did my best to block it all out and started with my first spin-up and then remained focused on holding that cadence for as long as it felt “comfortable” to do so. It hurt, but I did it.
“Well, that sucked”, was the immediate response in my brain.
Fuck you negativity, “You can do this!”…and I did it again…and again…
I concentrated on putting power into the pedals more than I have ever done before, even when it felt like my lungs were going to explode and my nuts were going to rupture. In fact, I became a bit worried at one point that I might have some unfortunate scaring going on in places I didn’t even want to think about but, still, I focused on power.
“More power!”, actually became a new motivation self-talk statement at one point. I know it wasn’t part of the original plan but I was certainly willing to go with whatever it was that worked in the moment, and in that precise moment, “More power!” is exactly what I needed to hear.
I continued to spin up an hold as best as I could and the last 2 or 3 “sprints” were every bit as agonizing as the sensations going on in my shorts, let me tell you.
I had no concept of time. I know that the research guy in the oven with me (Phil) comes around every two minutes to get my RPE and Thermal Sensation and Discomfort readings so I should be able to keep an approximate track of how much time has passed but, truthfully, after the first two or so and it’s really beginning to get shitty, they all feel like the first.
Eventually, I couldn’t take any more and immediately following my last spin up I quit. Now, whether I 100% gave up or whether my cadence dropped below the pre-established 60rpm for 5 seconds signaling the finish, I’m not really sure. What I do know is that I was 100% spent and feeling rather disappointed with myself (as I’m sure was reflected in the subsequent BRUMS scale I completing immediately after getting off the bike).
A picture is worth a thousand words:
I figured that while I had put more effort into the pedals, the eventual cost was in not being able to go for as long as I would have liked. Plus, I hated the feeling of having to “quit” (whether or not that actually happened, is moot). On the plus side, I think my cognitive testing afterwards (once my heart rate came back down of course) went very well, just as it had the first time. In that regard I was definitely happy.
In the first exercise protocol I managed to last 12 whole minutes at my 80% and today, using motivational self-talk, I was able to last 13 minutes representing an improvement of 9% overall. So, despite how I felt about the second TTE, that positive phrasing definitely seemed to work. But here’s the part I’m really pleased with:
During the first session, I managed 10 or so spin up’s to approximately 90 rpm before dropping back down to an average of approximately 77 rpm. This time around, I managed 12 spin up’s overall at over 100 rpm which I was able to sustain for up to 40-45 seconds at a time before returning to an approximate average of 80 rpm. That means that my ride on that particular day was a lot less variable in my being able to maintain a steady cadence and power outage.
I guess I can live with that.
Where positive self-talking definitely helps with athletic performance (which is awesome), even in extreme hot and humid conditions (even more awesome), it also works very well in positively improving cognitive ability as well and that’s particularly some pretty awesome shit.
I will include all the actual results in the follow-up Part 2 to this post in the near future so, until then, hang tight, for that awesome shit is about to get real.