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DO YOU HAVE MCAS? 

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(Motivationally Challenged Athlete Syndrome) 

BY NEIL VALLANCE

15 DAYS TO BOOST YOUR TRAINING

Which of the following best describes your start to 2021 training?

  • Epic – Far exceeds wildest hopes
  • Solid – Building momentum daily
  • Passing – Okay but work to do
  • Downer – New subject, please
  • Critical – Season on life support
Covid, lockdown and a host of related factors could have led to a drastic change in training and no events might have led you to question or change your reasons for training.

If you can’t clearly and honestly answer a/b above, you could be suffering from MCAS (motivationally challenged athlete syndrome). This is a real condition that typically incubates immediately following the end of the previous racing season, or in this case about a year ago when lockdown started. Here are the symptoms:
  • Inability to lock in on a goal; feel scattered and uninspired training
  • Inexplicable lack of will to follow through on desired level of training base build-up
  • Growing anxiety that with each passing day time is running out to get race fit
  • Exuding an increasingly negative energy about expectations for upcoming season.
If you’ve got some (or all) of the symptoms, don’t beat yourself up or dwell on it. The fact is, all of us who race long enough, including the best athletes in the world, will battle through bouts of MCAS. In the first few months of lockdown you might have experienced an increase in motivation due to extra time available and all the craziness of running around your garden for as long as you can! But, chances are that as lockdown continued there was a severe lack of motivation.

The important thing is to admit it and take action since it is a progressive condition that only gets tougher to beat the longer it festers. Don’t let it derail your whole season or training programme. Forget trying to figure out what’s gone wrong. We could dig and dig for the reasons behind your slow start but does it really matter? Sometimes our thoughts only get in the way and make things worse. Right now you need to stop thinking about what’s wrong and just admit you’ve broken the first commandment of endurance training: Thou shall have outstanding training habits.

Your #1 objective right now should be getting your good physical habits back. Don’t worry about getting in shape. In fact, don’t even evaluate your fitness. Instead, put all your eggs into one basket: just getting your butt out the door. Since your ability to do that has been a little shaky, let’s really change things up with a very specific and doable goal – the 15 Day Challenge.

Instead of focusing on the next event in a few months’ time, focus on the next 15 days.

Starting tomorrow morning, you’re going to commit to doing two training sessions every day. As daunting as that sounds, here’s the deal that makes it so doable. During the 15 day period, forget everything you know about what constitutes a workout to you. Your only goal is to complete two sessions of at least 15-minutes each, one in the AM and one in the PM.

That’s it. Just make sure there’s a sizeable time gap between each session (before and after work). Some people will be tempted to dismiss the power of a plan with only 15-minute sessions. That would be a mistake. As simple as it sounds, it’s going to be a lot more challenging than you think. But if you can pull it off, the rewards will be monumental with lots of firsts.

Firstly, you will have the first clear and concise training goal you’ve set this year, and probably, the first goal of the year you’ve achieved. Secondly, there’s no way you can manage completing 30 sessions in 15 days without transforming your daily habits to another stratosphere.

The biggest shock might be how much you physically transform in such a short time. Doing shorter sessions you’ll go faster and start feeling snappy, looser and more efficient. You’ll even gain endurance and find yourself naturally wanting to go longer in some sessions. That’s totally fine. Just make sure that no individual session is so long or hard that it prevents you from doing the next session later that day or the next morning.

Along the way, shut off the voice of what’s normal. Don’t fall back into pace or distance based goals. Forget about kph, average speed, distance, heart rate and possibly even your Strava…!. It’s just go at least 15 minutes, twice a day, for 15 straight days, with no exceptions.

Two last things to help you along the way. You can do most any form of exercise in your session. That includes running, swimming, cycling, surfing, weight training, yoga or intensive stretching. It might be a good idea to try a few different forms of exercise with family and friends. Also, to make it real, use a chart to record each activity and the number of minutes immediately following each session. Stick it to the fridge for that extra bit of motivation!!!

Pull off all 30 sessions in 15 days, that’s your only goal. Do it and see the transformation that takes place.

Good luck!