I'm amazed at what some people are capable of doing. From great distance runners who can run insanely fast times over such a long distance to Navy Seals who can push their bodies past the breaking point. How can these people accomplish such extraordinary things? Do they have extra strong muscles or superhuman powers? It's true, most probably have detailed muscles, chiseled to perfection from thousands of miles run or thousands of push-ups completed. But, is muscle everything?
I have been a distance runner more years of my life than not and have run competitively for many of those years. In 2015 I ran and completed my first Ultrathon, a 108K starting in Challis, Idaho (River of No Return). To that point, I had never run a race farther than a marathon. Then in 2016 I ran a 122 mile trail race in British Columbia (Fat Dog 120) which had over 29,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. This race took me a little over 37 hours to complete and I don't think my quads had ever hurt so bad in my life. Running down hill got to be so painful it was crazy. In addition, the outside of my left knee became very, very sore. At mile 101 I still had a big climb ahead of me and I remember letting my wife know that once I got up, I didn’t know how I was going to get down. After finishing the race I eventually sat down, rested, ate and drank. Once I got back up to leave, I didn’t know that I could have run another mile...I was one sore pup.
I went into both of the above Ultra races with the mindset of knowing it was going to be hard but I was going to finish. Basically, I was going to have to be carried off the trail before I'd quit. I believe it was this mindset which allowed me to complete both races. I have learned the mind is extremely powerful and our bodies are very strong. Most runners will probably never find out just how tough their bodies really are because we succumb to it’s calls "Stop, this hurts", "Slow down" or “I can't sustain this pace", etc. However, in those moments when your body is crying out, tell yourself, "NO, I'm not going to stop" or "NO, I'm not going to quit." Then put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You'll find your body will respond and do what it's told. I believe it's this ability, the ability to override your body, that makes an athlete great.
You may ask, "Is someone just born with the ability to override their body or can you develop this ability?" I would guess there may be some who naturally have a strong mind and can push themselves to the limit; however, I know you can acquire this ability as well, because I have. Here are four tips to develop your mental strength.
1) Choose a mantra - pick a word or a saying you will tell yourself when things get tough. It can be as simple as "I'm not going to quit" or "I'm tough". Click here for more on mantras
2) Become familiar and comfortable with discomfort and fatigue before your race. Knowing what you're up against allows you to prepare to conquer. Interval training, tempo runs and long runs will provide the setting for experiencing fatigue and discomfort. Use these runs in your training in the months prior to your race.
3) Know it's going to hurt and be okay with it. But, decide beforehand how you're going to react when it starts to hurt. Visualize yourself in the race, see yourself hurting and feeling tired; then, see yourself pushing through the hurt and pressing on. Click here for more on visualization
4) After a sufficient warm up, run hard for 10 minutes and see how far you can go. Repeat the same run in subsequent weeks and push yourself to go further each time.
Now, go see what you're really capable of.... I dare you to become great! If you'd like some personal coaching to help develop a strong mind, let me know.