Why You Should Train By Feel

Step away from the gadgets.

With the advent of social media and uploading training sessions onto Strava and other platforms, many athletes enjoy pissing contests comparing watts dropped, KOMs recorded, even total mileage recorded weekly. While this “game-ifying” of fitness is good for training motivation, it doesn’t mean these numbers taken individually can accurately predict race day performance.

(We all know athletes who “win” each of their training sessions, but crap out spectacularly at The Big Dance.)

Many triathletes can get so caught up in training that they neglect to look at the big picture: performance on race day.

While knowing your power and heart rate thresholds can help you modulate effort and finish strong in your races, what happens if your watch gives out on you, or you lose it in the scrum on the swim?

This is why it’s important to train not just by numbers, but correlate those numbers to feel. Heart rate monitors and power meters are tools, but they are just that: tools.

What does “easy” feel like to you? Moderate effort? Hard?

When I begin training for any distance, what I am looking for is an ability to feel my way through the speed I am targeting. I have found that the key to making improvements is learning to trust your own pace and exertion.

I make it a point to go periodically for an hour-long run without a watch. I use feel by pace and effort to estimate just how long and far I have been running. The fitter I am, the closer I get to accurately estimating that hour.

The more in tune I am with my body, the better I can hit the effort prescribed for training sessions even without looking at the numbers. And it is that ability to feel and understand how your body is going that could be your biggest strength in a race situation.

Some athletes race like clockwork: you know exactly what power they will be going for on the bike, what split they are going to run. Once challenged by a competitor they are unable to answer surges and other tactics because they are afraid they will hit the wall if they add extra effort; they have not trained to shut off the numbers and go by feel.

If you are simply going for a finish or a new PB then yes, race your own race. But if you’re on the pointy end, it could be the difference between the win and just a participation medal.

Chris "Macca" McCormack is a four-time triathlon world champion with the biggest winning percentage in the history of the sport. He is a co-founder and partner in Super League Triathlon, CEO of the Bahrain Endurance 13 team, and founder and executive director of MX Endurance.

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