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In our private workshop with the MaratonIST Triathlon Club of Istanbul this weekend I used one of our practice sets to show how we turn even those passive rest moments (= being still) at the wall into valuable training opportunity. Those moments are not just about recovering heart rate, but just as importantly, those moments are about recovering the attention. For adult athletes with a limited time budget for training (especially for these who are training for Ironman), small otherwise neglected moments in practice can also be used to one’s advantage.

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Here are some points I shared:

Don’t talk to the people next to you (at least in the middle of high-concentration sets). This is time to examine and decide.

Use nasal breathing while recovering- keep the mouth closed. This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to help calm heart rate.

Use this moment to think about what you have just done and what you intend to do better next.

Ask yourself:

  • What was successful?
  • What did I do to make that happen?
  • How will I repeat, protect or improve this in the next moment?

Or ask:

  • What failed?
  • What detail caused it?
  • How will I correct this in the next moment?

Make a decision about your intention for that next moment. Then do it.

In practical terms, this decision may mean, if successful, that you use the same Focal Point, and reinforce your attention upon it. If unsuccessful you may change the Focal Point, or correct the way you used that previous one.

I reminded the group that Success and Failure should mean very little in these moments on an emotional level – they are just information to sustain the improvement process. Failures are useful in a practice for exposing what hasn’t been mastered yet, while (repetitive) successes are useful for imprinting the pattern so that it is easier to reproduce in the future.

Also, when something fails (or when something succeeds) one should not leave it as a mystery why. The whole point of the high-quality, mindful practice is to scan the training situation – in the case of failure – to find the cause so it can be corrected, or – in the case of success – find the cause so that it can be protected and more deeply imprinted.

Turning off attention (tuning out) is not necessarily a great way to rest your brain – from a neurological point of view, simply changing the aim of your attention, or viewing the detail from a different direction can provide rest in one part of the brain, while maintaining mental momentum by keeping things firing in another.

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Got people who try to talk to you at the wall? Here’s my approach to protecting my concentration: I submerge my body under water until only the head from nostrils up is above the surface. I use nasal breathing at the wall so the exhale from my nose makes ripples on the surface of the water. I can even make a short meditative focus on my breath this way as I feel my heart rate quiet down to the level I intend. I either closely face the wall (if higher than the surface of the water) or look down the lane, making it obvious I am concentrating on something. I don’t make eye contact. It takes a fairly rude or oblivious person to disturb me in this position.

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