If you haven't yet heard of Tayler Wiles, you will soon. The 23-year-old Utah native is the most recent addition to the Specialized-lululemon pro women's team. At first glance, it's hard to look at her seriously sweet, model-quality face and believe that she will tear your legs off at the first sign of a rising grade, but – trust me – she will. She's also whip-smart and a self-pronounced "science nerd".
There's a more extended conversation with Wiles in Issue 18 of peloton print, but one thing that she said during our conversation really struck me. I've been thinking about it a lot.
Faro, Portugal - Hotel Lobby
We're talking about TT strategy. What do you think about while you're turning yourself inside out? What's the mental game?
Wiles gets quiet. I can tell she's a little shy about whatever she's about to say. "This might sound cheesy," she explains, "But I think a lot about my stepmother when I'm time-trialing. She had cancer and she went through this horrible chemo and was in so much pain. So for me when I’m in pain in a time trial I just think, 'This is nothing. This isn’t pain. I can go so much harder. I can be in so much more pain.' I just keep thinking, 'You can always hurt more.'"
You can always hurt more.
The message is not just one about keeping life in perspective, it's also a tribute to the belief that the mind is capable of overriding the false signals in the body that tell us to stop when we, in fact, don't really need to.
In late December and January I relapsed back to my old running habits and picked up Matt Fitzgerald's "Brain Training for Runners". I won't do the whole concept justice (there's a whole book about it, after all) but it touches on the same theory:
Recent science has shown that the brain allows the body to exercise as long as hard as it "believes" the body can go without harming itself. The brain's sense of what the body can safely do is defined primarily by afferent feedback signals received from the body and by the establishment and adjustment of "set points" through exercise experience. But purely psychological phenomena, such as beliefs, can have an effect, too. If you truly, consciously believe that you can achieve a certain running performance, this belief may relax your brain's self-protective limiters and allow your body to run closer to the point of self-harm that it otherwise would.
Of course, you can't just believe you're going to run an Olympic qualifying 3,000k and expect it to happen, but the point is nevertheless an important one, especially for everyday schmucks like me and you: change your mind, sucker – you can always hurt more.
In other words, stop selling yourself short. This was driven home during the Tour de France ride last year: every day I woke up expecting ride 135 miles (again) or climb 16,000 feet in 100 miles, or do battle with some obnoxious ski-resort grade. Did I have any precedent whatsoever to believe any of that shit was possible? No. Nothing to go on except a decision I made in my brain: this is happening. Then I made it happen.
This is one reason that having a training plan can be so helpful: you look at the calendar and see what you're going to do that day. Then you go do it. There's no debate. There's no doubt. You've looked at that 3x20min threshold workout for a week now, you knew it was coming. Now it's here: go do it. Your expectation is set. Your mind is ready for it. Your body will follow.
It's the same with that big double century you've been eyeing - or that 300k brevet. It's the same with this crazy Mountain Bike Ayiti stage race that someone convinced me to race at the last minute.
A few days if you would have asked me if I'd ever enter a 3-stage mountain bike race with 70 miles and more than 10,000 feet of climbing (including a 90 minute hike up a boulder-strewn grade called "sole collector") within 36 hours, I would have laughed in your face.
Then my mind decided it was possible and that we would go. And that the heart probably would be ok. And that the lungs would soldier through it. And that the high fives at the finish would be worth it. And that the legs would… well, who cares really? Shut up, legs!
I can always hurt more. Thanks, Tayler.