I get a lot of questions from my athletes: what do I think of this running form technique, and what about
adding in this workout, or what type of running shoes should I wear?
These are all valid questions, but one of the more important aspects of training is much more
nebulous and not addressed as often. The mental side of training is just as important as the physical
side of training.
What do I mean by the "mental side of training?"
Our minds create background conversations that can directly affect our fitness gains and goals as
well as other parts of our lives. Let me give you some examples that may sound familiar:
When you think about signing up for an event, does your heart start to pound? When you are in
those tough moments during training or a race, does your brain panic? Do you immediately think
you can’t do THIS (whatever this is) or even quit? Do you not come to group events because you
worry you won't be able to keep up? Do you feel so nervous about a tough workout that you don’t even try?
Laird Hamilton says it well: “Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.”
My goal as a coach is to teach you to take these “rough spots” and “background conversations” and
turn them into positive tools you can use. I want to reframe them to show you that these rough spots
are valuable in and of themselves; in fact, they are an absolute necessity to help you further your
goals and get you through your goal races and events.
Train your brain as well as your body.
Tough moments in training don’t mean it’s time to quit and just give up your goal race. In fact, reframing these tough moments as a vital part of training can help you push on and develop better mental training skills which will carry you to and through race day.
Remember: outcomes directly correlate to practice. If you quit during a rough spot in training, you are more likely to quit in a race. Alternatively, learning that you can make it through a tough spot makes it easier for you to deal with the next one, and each time you will be better prepared and able to handle it a bit better.
Know that the more you train, race or just push yourself the more you will find these rough patches. Overcoming them as we meet them is what challenges us to keep pushing and finding new edges and goals.
So … what do you do to keep yourself going instead of giving up?
Be ready for it. ALL of it.
I remind athletes before a major event or long workout that they will go through every emotion they know at some point during the day, both good and bad. If you are in the middle of a bad patch, keep going: in a few minutes it will get better!
I was told this before my first Ironman Canada in 2006. At the time I kind of understood it but it was not until I was in it that I really got it. I remember being so nervous at the start and bursting into tears just before the gun went off because my anxiety was so high. This actually gave me relief as by acknowledging my anxiety, I was able to calm myself, focus, and be ready to go.
It was a long day! I remember being so happy coming out of the water and so very relieved! Then on the bike at first it felt really hard, then a bit easier, then really hard. In this 5 hours and 45 minutes I went through thinking this was amazing, this was awful, whose idea was this, grateful – thanking the volunteers, happy and excited to see friends, clients and family, struggling in the wind, feeling powerful and strong climbing and then being elated flying down the back side of a big hill and riding into town. Then it was back to focus through the transition and doing what I needed to do to get out on the run. On the run, I went through all of those emotions again.
As I look back, there were many times I could have talked myself into stopping or quitting. There were times I doubted I could do this or even wanted to. There were times I thought I wouldn’t care if I even finished. Sometimes finishing didn’t matter at all and other times it mattered more than anything.
This event was the single most valuable lesson for me as an athlete and coach. I learned to really look and figure out what were those background conversations and how were they hindering? More importantly, what is it that really kept me going?
End of Part 1:
My runners do plenty of endurance events – reading a blog shouldn’t be one of them. Come back tomorrow for part 2, where I’ll share my tools for riding out the rough patches and staying mentally AND physically strong.