We all know that truly hard intervals are about mental toughness in addition to physical toughness. I bet we’ve all got little tricks and games we play with ourselves to stay in when our body is screaming to get out. Why not share what works? Here are a few of mine –
A shot of cold bottle water to the face and over the head, especially during a recovery valley, aids with cooling and seems to help my mind reset and sharpen up. It shocks me out of my inward focus on the pain and seems to give me enough fire to spin up again for the next one.
Drop a gear, add a gear - at a certain point, I don’t care what the cadence recommendation is. The variety of upshifting and downshifting seems to help me focus up and produce power when holding steady doesn’t seem possible. I often end up producing more wattage at a lower discomfort level for a little bit, getting me over the hump.
I have a personal rule that I never, ever quit or reduce an interval when there are 90 seconds or less remaining. If I see 1:30 I know I am as good as home. Believing this makes it true.
Visualizing the race scenario - put myself in that headspace where the rider who hangs on for 10, 20, 30 more seconds gets the glory and everyone else gets the T-shirt that came with their reg fee.
I remind myself that I have suffered more than this before, and that means I can suffer through this too.
A battle cry – I just did this today. When I complete an interval that I was about ready to quit on, I’ve been known to vocalize so much that my family two floors up can hear me whooping and screaming.
On your #3…my mind is set at 2:00 to go in an interval, and I’m working on getting that out to 2:30. I think you can sort of continually expand that “almost there” milestone. I also tell myself I’ll never quit an interval if I’m over 50 min into the workout (for a 60 min wo) or over about 1:15 for a 90 min workout. Outside that, just getting my mind on something else, turning the headphones up to earsplitting levels, and gritting my teeth til I’m done.
I break down the last 5 minutes into smaller bites.
5 min down to 3 min is 6 20-sec increments — it’s a countdown from 6.
3 min down to 1.5 min is 9 10-second increments — countdown from 9.
1.5 min down to 30 sec is just a countdown from 90
30 sec and below is one long “COME ON MFer!!!”
Also, I built a punk rawk + metal playlist for ≤ 3min intervals.
Longer intervals might be bands like Pelican, Mastodon, etc. . . .
. . . . so I can imagine riding a horse, clad in leather, killing orcs
. . . . instead of going nowhere in my living room, in spandex, with my shirt off, dreaming about killing orcs.
I like #3 a lot - but can you push 1:30 further out?!
I like to focus on quadrants - it usually gets my cadence up, and of course distracts a little from the suffering
Another coach Chad trick - the whole “this is hard, but I can do this”.
Get a gel in when it’s looking in doubt. Obviously there’s the quick sugar/carb hit, but also mentally I think it helps me. I used to down a 3rd/quarter of a gel 5 mins before going for a tough Strava segment outdoors - and I got over 300 of em!
for long flat intervals (no power undulations) I picture non specific bits towards the end of very fast 1 hour chaingangs I’ve done. Similar suffering I’ve pulled through in other words.
As a TR noob, I’m yet to fail a workout, but it’s coming!!
I’ve taken to insulting my legs and then eventually apologizing after the interval.
I too will set different time boundaries. Anything under 3 minutes ensures I’ll cross the finish line. I’ll find different ways to break up larger intervals and calculate my percent completion as I go. This can be a good and a bad thing…
The feeling of regret of not finishing an interval is real. I don’t like that feeling. I do what I can to avoid that feeling.
Marching Robot mode: Do my best to “turn off my brain”, ignore the screen, control my breathing, and simply count my pedal strokes during each exhale: “1, 2, 3, 4, … 1, 2, 3, 4, … 1, 2, 3, 4, … 1, 2, 3, 4 …”
With a minute to go, I count down pedal strokes. If I’m turning at 105rpm, I count from 105 down and the minute passes quicker and I’m less consumed by pain. Usually reserved for the final intervals of a VO2max workout, or Mary Austin…
I rotate stimulus within a workout a lot to figure out what works that day. Sometimes running zwift alongside works. Other times it’s just loud music. The 20 minute rugby World Cup recaps on youtube have gotten me through a bunch of intervals. Sometimes an action movie works.
As far as in interval, it’s always a weird negotiation in my head. I give myself permission to take a backspin, but only at a certain time. So then when i can get through that spot I’m not allowed anymore so I just have to finish it. I don’t know why this works for me but it does.
#3 is so key. It starts from the belief that we can do anything for 5 seconds, so anything longer is just stringing together a bunch of these “I can do it” bits. Sort of. I have two riffs on this that I use with reasonable success:
Look away from the clock for each “chunk” of time. If I’m focusing on ten seconds at a time, I look away for those ten seconds, then check back when I think ten seconds has passed. (It usually hasn’t.)
Extend this idea to the number of remaining intervals, or sets. Knowing that the last interval or set benefits from the psychological boost of knowing it’s the last one makes the second-to-last interval “the hardest one.” But at some point the second-to-last interval became “only the final one after this one,” which made it more manageable. Now my “hardest interval” is usually the second from the last one.