“In your new book “Sans Limites”, you insist on motivation, the real pillar of trail training. Why is this so important for amateur runners?
What is important is knowing exactly what you are training for. To lose weight or to be able to run for an hour or to do a 10 km or even the Paris Marathon, you need deep motivation. For example, on the UTMB, if half of the participants did not finish, it is because they have no solid motivation. And they register without really being ready. They don’t exploit their potential motivation, don’t really know why they do it. I don’t want to judge people but it’s a reality. Many of these participants should have done a 40, 80, or 100 km instead. In fact, they are trained to be able to run a small part of it. Then halfway through, they don’t have enough motivation, are very tired, and they stop. They shouldn’t, it’s not like they’re hurt. I find it unfortunate that the excessive commercialization of endurance sport makes us forget to educate the public on how to prepare for long distance races.
And do you think that the general public is sensitive to this notion of deep motivation?
Since my book came out, it’s incredible the number of messages I’ve received. People who have taken part in the UTMB tell me: I really applied what you wrote, it worked “. People find themselves there. Knowing why we do something, really having an intention, is fundamental. You don’t have to be passionate even if it always helps in life. If sometimes I really don’t feel like going to train, I do it because I like being on the trail, being outside, in nature, the mountains, it’s my passion. Motivation is a necessity. Otherwise we stay on the couch.
Morning training for Chloë Lanthier. (D.Taylor/DR)
Tell us about the contribution of cognitive science to your overall approach to training.
For years, when I teach professionals, physiotherapists, physiotherapists, I always integrate these concepts in rehabilitation and rehabilitation related to the functioning of the brain. And when I’m athletes, I feel that you can’t separate the emotional, physical and mental side. Especially right now, when we’re so focused on data, we forget about the person. And even if it is very fashionable to speak of ” to believe in ourselves, to be strong mentally “. It’s very abstract… What does that mean exactly? How do I become strong? This is the reason why I attach so much importance to this subject in my transmission work. I decided to make a book of it because I think it is essential.
You mention the importance of the perception of effort by trail runners. And you tell us that it is a production of the brain. That’s to say ?
The first perception is fatigue. As we say in English, it’s a “by-product”, a sensation that comes from the brain and not from the muscles. For example, you had a big day, you are tired and therefore you decide not to go running. It’s a mental fatigue different from lactate in the legs. And this is proof that this fatigue felt is a perception, not a reality. The problem is that we already draw on our sugar resources to think, work, fight against stress and negative thoughts. And that wears us out mentally and contributes to our general fatigue. The perception of fatigue is not the real fatigue. Often, what we feel is only the evaluation of our perception of fatigue. So if we don’t train the brain for this perception, we are always tired. I have friends who train at a high level, but they don’t progress because they always stay at the same intensity and on the same type of effort. And when they reach a difficult stage, they let go. They don’t outdo each other. So perceived exertion can be our biggest enemy, but it can very well be our best friend as well. You have to tame it. And if you learn to solicit it and then to 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.
“During a huge challenge like the UTMB, we don’t know how to test our true limits”
How to develop and sharpen this perception of effort?
During the vertical trainings that I organize in Chamonix, I see people who do not compete and, at the end, they easily improved their 10 km of 4 minutes And that, only by doing trainings of higher intensity, without pushing too hard. The more our perception of the effort is refined, the more our confidence grows. As soon as you can do something faster or longer, you feel so much better. So you really have to train by feeling. You have to get out of the chrono and its 5 zones a little. The idea is: “Don’t just look at your data”. Because if technology pushes us there, it tends to distract us from the awareness of our perception. As a result, we totally forget how we feel in training. And afterwards, during a huge challenge like the UTMB, we don’t know how to test our true limits. It is in my opinion linked to the lack of training based on perception.
You talk a lot in the book about the need for progress. Why is it so important to feel that we are progressing?
I think that’s the most important thing. To progress in life, it makes us feel good, to be fitter, to be stronger, it is important. But in sport it is often overlooked. You don’t have to run longer, but you can run faster. That’s what makes you feel the best. You have to reassess and look at the skills you need. That’s what I explain in the book: how to progress.
Chloe Lanthier. (P. Drozdz/DR)
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 registering for a 21 km rather than a 10 km or trying to arrive in 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 are in terrible pain, you persevere, this is called the “mindset”. And in endurance, it’s the most beautiful thing. This state of mind that will allow you to feel great, then to endure that someone overtakes you and then to be afraid of not finishing. Your calves start to hurt, you doubt, 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 strong as knowing how to stay focused on what you’re doing. Don’t let doubt win you over. Do not overreact to difficulty. Don’t get drunk by accelerating too much when you’re having a good time because you know it won’t last. And you have to work on that in training. To progress is not to give up. Endurance is the sport that does not exist without emotion.
“The worst thing is that many women think that when they have their period they are very weak”
The female athlete: a chapter of your 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 very long time, surrounded by men. And I know that can be very intimidating. We are in 2022 but I have friends who have daughters of 10, 12 years old. They don’t talk to their mother about their 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 have their period, they are very weak. Even though this hormonal change is a strength for us. Again, it’s a matter of perception. It is our body that works harder than that of men because it faces hormonal upheavals. But that’s not a weakness. I think all men should understand that. It’s not that I’m a particularly feminist. But it is important to inform and describe the mechanisms specific to women’s bodies. To help them, first of all, by taking their hormonal cycles into account, to optimize their training and improve their performance. And then find strategies to reduce the side effects that some suffer a lot from.
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 it, 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 who tell me that just explaining this has helped them enormously. »