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Coaches Blog

Discomfort and Mu

Discomfort. What a fun thing to talk about, but it is a crucial topic when it comes to talking

about sports. Discomfort is a defining feature of sport. There are the obvious kinds of discomfort when it comes to sport; Physical, Mental, and Emotional. Which are all well and good, but the brunt of this article is about the concept of active/passive discomfort and Mu.

Discomfort is not comfortable (duh), but it can be enjoyable. I look at discomfort the same way I look at math. I never very understood or liked either of them before I figured out how wonderful and necessary they are in life.

So what is the difference between active and passive discomfort? It kind of sounds like the difference between punching yourself in the face and getting punched in the face. Which is pretty much correct. Active discomfort is purposely seeking out discomfort. Passive discomfort is dealing with discomfort when it comes along. Active and passive can be any of the usual discomforts. Whether it be physical, mental, or emotional.

Anyone who races needs to seek out active discomfort in training. Racing hurts, and the only way to get used to hurting is finding that hurt is attempting to find that hurt in training. I use the word attempt because I do not believe it is possible to completely simulate how a race will feel in training. On the bright side, I think it is possible to “over-simulate” some aspects of racing in training.

One of the biggest issues I had in my racing career was the DNF. As a cyclist, a DNF was not the biggest deal, especially if my task in the race was covering breaks and/or standard domestique duties. Triathlon and Ultra running are two different beasts. I can’t just stop and get picked up by my team car. I’m not even on a team; I’m racing for myself. A DNF is a waste of time and money. When I started to hurt in a tri, those DNF thoughts would start running through my head. Sadly enough, I gave in a few times and felt terrible afterward.

So, how did I fix this? I actively sought out discomfort in my training. I did, and still do, my long rides on the trainer. Inevitably, I get to the point 3-4 hours into a ride where I just want to quit and be done. This is the active discomfort I need. When I get to that nearly overpowering desire to stop, I keep going. It hurts. It hurts bad, but after 5-10 minutes, the discomfort passes, and I know how it feels and can get through it on race day.

Super, what a typical training article so far. Adam, you mentioned Mu earlier in the article; what does a Greek letter have to do with discomfort.

I am actually not referring to Mu the letter, but rather the Zen concept. In all honesty, I cannot define Mu. I can only describe it with my own (semi) understanding.

I prefer Musashi’s word for Mu, which is no-thing-ness. One of my brain busters I use on my swim team is the question, “Is racing real .”

The knee-jerk answer is “Yes,” but the deeper answer is more complicated. Racing does not exist physically. Racing only exists to the individual, and there is nothing outside one’s self that is needed to be successful.

On the flip side, no-thing-ness also implies that the individual is not required for racing. The work of the individual is what is needed for racing. This is because the work/discomfort is just as abstract and inherent to the individual as racing. Racing and work/discomfort share the same spirit. Actively seeking out discomfort in training trains oneself to actively race--to be completely engaged and find success (whatever that means to the individual).

That is one of the shortest and simplest descriptions of Mu/no-thing-ness. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me or read the Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.


Coach Adam Sczech is an IRONMAN University Certified Coach, USAT Level I Certified Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and VFS Master Bike Fitter based out of the Western Slope of Colorado. Adam has years of experience coaching beginners, juniors, elites, and clubs as well as a year focusing specifically on special needs athletes. Adam's expertise with bike fitting is extensive with over 15 years and 8,000 fits for athletes that include two world record holders, a national champion, several IRONMAN Pro/Age Groups winners, and an ITU winner. He has completed several full and half Ironman races, as well as numerous Olympic and Sprint races.


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