“The perception of effort can be our greatest enemy”

Consultant in biomechanics and human performance, the trail runner Chloë Lanthier published this summer her second book, “Without Limits”. The Canadian living in Chamonix talks to us again about the importance of motivation and the perception of effort in the practice of endurance sports.

“In your new book “Sans Limites” you insist on motivation, the true pillar of mountain training. Why is this so important to amateur runners?
The important thing is to know exactly what you are training for. To lose weight or to be able to run for an hour or do 10 km or even the Paris marathon, you need deep motivation. For example, in the UTMB, if half of the participants did not finish, it is because they do not have a solid motivation. And they register without really being prepared. They don’t exploit their potential motivation, they don’t really know why they do it. I don’t want to judge people but it is a reality. Many of these participants should have done 40, 80 or 100 km instead. In fact, they are trained to be able to execute a small part of it. Then halfway through, they don’t have enough motivation, they’re too tired, and they stop. They shouldn’t, it’s not like they’re hurt. I find it unfortunate that the over-commercialization of endurance sport causes us to forget to educate the public on how to prepare for long-distance racing.

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And do you think the general public is sensitive to this notion of deep motivation?
Since my book came out, it’s amazing how many messages I’ve received. People who have participated in the UTMB tell me: I actually applied what you wrote, it worked “. People meet there. Knowing why we do something, really having an intention, is essential. You don’t have to be passionate, although it always helps in life. If sometimes I don’t really want to go to training, I do it because I I like being on the track, being outdoors, in nature, in the mountains, it’s my passion. Motivation is a must. Otherwise, we stay on the couch.

Tell us about the contribution of cognitive science to your overall approach to training.
For years, when I teach professionals, physical therapists, physical therapists, I always integrate these concepts in rehabilitation and rehabilitation related to the functioning of the brain. And when I’m an athlete, I feel like you can’t separate the emotional, physical and mental side. Especially right now, when we are so focused on the data, we forget about the person. And although it is very fashionable to talk about ” believe in ourselves, be strong mentally “. It’s very abstract… What does that mean exactly? How do I get strong? This is why I give this topic so much importance in my broadcast work. I decided to make a book out of it because I think it’s essential.

You mention the importance of effort perception by mountain runners. And you tell us that it is a brain production. Namely ?
The first perception is fatigue. As we say in English, it is a “by-product”, a sensation that comes from the brain and not from the muscles. For example, you had a great day, you are tired and so you decide not to go for a run. It is a different mental fatigue than lactate in the legs. And this is the proof that this felt tiredness is a perception, not a reality. The problem is that we already draw on our sugar resources to think, work, fight stress and negative thoughts. And that wears us down mentally and contributes to our general tiredness. The perception of tiredness is not the real tiredness. Often what we feel is just the evaluation of our perception of fatigue. So if we don’t train the brain for this perception, we will always be tired. I have friends who train at a high level, but they don’t progress because they always stay at the same intensity and type of effort. And when they reach a difficult stage, they let go. They do not outdo each other. So perceived exertion can be our greatest enemy, but it can also be our best friend. You have to tame it. And if you learn to request it and then control it, it becomes finer. And we can train harder. We still feel the difficulty but our perception changes. And that’s how you progress in sport.

How to develop and sharpen this perception of effort?
During the vertical training that I organize in Chamonix, I see people who do not compete and in the end they easily improve their 10 km of 4 minutes And that, just by doing higher intensity training, without trying too hard. The more our perception of effort is refined, the more our confidence grows. As soon as you can do something faster or longer, you’ll feel much better. So you really have to train feeling. You have to get out of the chrono and its 5 zones. The idea is: “Don’t just look at your data”. Because if technology pushes us there, it tends to distract us from awareness of our perception. As a result, we completely forget how we feel in training. And then, during a big challenge like the UTMB, we don’t know how to test our true limits. In my opinion it is linked to the lack of training based on perception.

You talk a lot in the book about the need to progress. Why is it so important to feel like we’re making progress?
I think that’s the most important thing. Progressing in life makes us feel good, being fitter, being stronger, is important. But in sports it is often neglected. You don’t have to run longer, but you can run faster. That’s what makes you feel better. You have to reassess and look at the skills you need. That’s what I explain in the book: how to progress.

So, according to you, what exactly is progress?
Progression is acquiring skills that move us forward and give us mental confidence. And that motivates us to have new goals like signing up for a 21km instead of a 10km or trying to get into the top 10 of your age group. I push people to have goals because it helps them progress. During a competition, we experience all kinds of emotions. When you have terrible pain, you persevere, this is called “mindset”. And in the resistance, it is the most beautiful. That frame of mind that will allow you to feel good, then put up with someone passing you by, and then be afraid you won’t finish. Your calves start to hurt, you hesitate, you can’t run anymore, but you keep going… It’s not being strong. You are neither positive, nor negative, nor weak. It’s not so much about being mentally tough as it is about knowing how to stay focused on what you’re doing. Don’t let doubt win you over. Don’t overreact to difficulty. Don’t get drunk by speeding too hard when you’re having a good time because you know it won’t last. And you have to work on that in training. Progress is not giving up. Endurance is the sport that does not exist without emotion.

The Female Athlete: A chapter in her book evokes a training approach that takes into account the physiological and hormonal specificities of women. Why ?
First, I am a woman and an athlete. I competed at a high level for a long time, surrounded by men. And I know that can be very intimidating. We are in 2022 but I have friends who have daughters who are 10, 12 years old. They don’t talk to his mom about his period and how to deal with it when we play sports. These are questions that are difficult to address. And the worst thing is that many women think that when they get their period they are very weak. Although this hormonal change is a strength for us. Once again, it is a matter of perception. It is our body that works harder than men’s because it is faced with hormonal disorders. But that is not a weakness. I think all men should understand that. Not that I’m particularly a feminist. But it is important to inform and describe the specific mechanisms of women’s bodies. To help them, first of all, by taking into account their hormonal cycles, to optimize their training and improve their performance. And then find strategies to reduce the side effects that some people experience a lot.

Have you been able to experience the benefits of this approach?
What I write, I lived it and I was able to experience it. And I saw a big difference in 6 months. I really improved my performance by changing my intensity level every two weeks. I felt much better and recovered very quickly. In women, there is this problem of feeling tired during menstruation. It always comes back to perception. You have to work with that, change your diet a little, train a little less, do less intensity. But it is important to continue. And you have to know that it doesn’t work for everyone. We all have different bodies. I have received many messages from women telling me that just explaining this to them has helped them tremendously. »

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