The Domain…….a place between exhaustion and oblivion.
In triathlon, we often look to for innovative technology or the latest training methods in the quest to go faster. However, there’s a philosophical concept that’s over 2500 years old which is innate and if recognised will frame the way we train and race. It’s a Buddhist concept called Nirvana, the end of suffering. To get there requires an intellectually disciplined journey in which we lose our ego. Nirvana is a place of balance where there is no perception, just reality in which we don’t worry about the past or future. It’s about the here and now!
Just imagine racing in such a state of no suffering. Psychologists have termed such a state of the optimal zone of functioning. Everything simply feels balanced. It’s a state that most athletes rarely experience, a place where PB’s are achieved and dreams realised. But achieving this state consistently requires the discipline of Buddha himself.
Fatigue, the inability to maintain the required pace can be the enemy but only if you let it be. There are metabolic, neuromuscular and environmental factors that can contribute to this fatigue. Regardless of race distance, fatigue generally hits us at 2/3rds of the way through with efferent signals hitting our brain which tell us to slow down. However, if we’ve got pacing and nutrition right, only a lack of mental discipline or misfortune will slow us down before the end of the race.
The purpose of training is to meet the specific demands of the race. In all but draft legal races, doing so is relatively simple. It’s all about training to maintain a relatively constant pace until the finishing line. We also need to prepare ourselves to enter the Domain willingly. If we think about the Domain positively, like entering the Nirvana zone rather than the hurt locker, then optimal performance is more likely.
Many triathletes are attracted to the sport because it is tough and it suits their alpha personality. They perceive themselves to be mentally tough and this translates into how they train. This quasi-one-paced mediocrity neither enhances fat metabolism, FTP or VO2max. The fact is that most athletes train too hard and race too slow. I like Stephen Seiler’s 80% easy: 20% hard concept in this regard. Have a watch of the YouTube presentation below if you want to hear more.
I’m a great believer that perceived strength and ego can be the biggest weakness in many triathletes, especially for those who take the path of least resistance. They focus on training the body in that zone between VT1 and VT2, whilst neglecting the training of the mind to meet the demands of their targeted event. Particularly when racing long, many unhelpful emotions and perceptions will catch the mentally undisciplined out, they will push too hard and sub-optimal performance will result.
I once read a book by a polar expedition leader (who’s name escapes me) who said that alpha-trait males were a complete liability when travelling in hazardous environments. Those with less perceived strength would think themselves out of dangerous situations rather than letting their ego drive them to their death. Of course, triathlon is far less extreme and death is rare, but the same principles apply.
Discipline in Training and Domain Training
There’s plenty information regarding training out there; however, information should not be confused with knowledge. We’ve got to be able to apply what we know to the real world and it most cases that means keeping it simple. All most athletes need to consider is consistency and specificity in their approach, doing the simple things well and ‘picking the low hanging fruit’ first.
The specificity comes from training in and around specific training zones:
Easy endurance: to promote efficient movement and energy (fat) metabolism. Developing good technique and formidable best achieved in this zone as it cannot be done effectively when fatigued. Training at this pace takes discipline and mental toughness, especially when training partners are pushing harder.
Medium endurance: for 70.3 and Iron-distance athletes this is race-pace training. It should feel controlled rather than hard. Technique and form should be maintained rather than developed here.
Threshold: isn’t the sweet-spot unless you’re focusing on sprint or Olympic distance events. I would argue that it’s ok to train here in the off-season if you’re going long it won’t do much to enhance your race performance if you go here too often in the race-phase.
Speed and power: is for interval training of up to a few minutes. It can be used liberally in the preparation phase of training and more conservatively later in the season. For certain types of athletes, I’d use such efforts in easy sessions too to break up the monotony or to satisfy a fragile ego.
Domain training: To the best of my knowledge, I invented this zone. It is not bound by any type of threshold other than in one’s soul. Plato may recognise it but Karlman Wassermann certainly would not. To enter it regularly in training is impossible but to achieve optimal performance in racing, it is essential.
If you go into The Domain, it will be embedded in your memory. I’ll never forget the 1st time I experienced it a few months before The Longest Day. I rode at pace from Edinburgh to a training camp in Aberfeldy with some mates, met with some others and rode a bit more and then cycled home as I had work the next morning, This 260km ride over 14 hours became horrible after a coke. My gut refused to take food after I drank it and with 50km to go, my brain glycogen was so low that I could barely signal my hands to pull the brakes. A neighbour had to rescue me from the front door of my tenement block, get me and my bike in the house and then buy me pizza which I could barely eat. I had passed through exhaustion to oblivion.
Domain training can equally be done in short sessions, say racing a mile until you taste blood in your lungs or digging so deep on a hilly ride that you can barely stand afterwards. Used sparingly in combination with easy and medium endurance rides builds resilient and mentally strong athletes. Going into the domain regularly or in combination with loads of sessions between the thresholds can lead to temporarily fast athletes but more often than not it will lead to broken or not quite as fast as they could be ones. I’d love to test this hypothesis on a couple of brothers in the Leeds area………………..