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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mental Toughness

It's occurred to me that one of the hardest parts of training isn't really biking and running in the heat, and it's not swimming in a pool or lake that's so warm you feel like a piece of poached salmon.  It's not getting up at 4 am and repeating the insanity day-after-day, nor is it early bedtimes, whacky nutrition and declining invites because you "have to train."

One of the hardest things to train is your mind.  When you first start, there's lots of "low hanging fruit" which translates to quick improvements when you start training.  It makes for good motivation to continue.  However, when all that low hanging fruit is harvested and you have to start working a little harder to get the fruit at the top, that's when the mental training begins.

Everyone handles stress differently.  When it comes to training, if I'm stressed, I tend to want to train alone. Others just force feed themselves their workouts in and effort to release some of the stress.  I say go for whatever works for you.

I see the lows of training as a necessary evil; forging through them helps you become more efficient navigating through tough and challenging times.  Eventually your lows just don't seem as low anymore, because you've learn to navigate through them faster.  Just like on race day, when things maybe aren't going your way, you become injured, you're not making your goals and you  just know that no matter what you do, and no matter how well you can turn it around, that you will still might not finish satisfied.

There are athletes with natural ability who have a good foundation, they train well, they never seem to have an "off" day, they get better and faster.  However, just because someone is an awesome athlete doesn't always mean they have the mental tenacity required to get through tough challenges on race day. Just maybe, because they don't have to manage as many lows in their training, they also don't have the learning experiences of pulling themselves up and out of whatever is going wrong. I've seen some really awesome athletes have less than stellar days when they couldn't get their head-game together because they've not been a position often enough where it was required.

Now, I may not be the fastest athlete out there, but I'm pretty darn tough in the head.  I know, seemingly ironic given what I've been going through the last several months; it sounds like one ginormous whine-fest.  When the odds are against me I know how to wade through and process what I need to. It sometimes not very pretty and can take time, but in the end I can say I've dealt with whatever it is and can move on.  Just the exercise of managing issues makes my mind stronger.

At Lonestar 70.3 I chased the cut-off the entire day.  I was in the last swim wave, I had to have a good bike to have plenty of time for my run, but not blow-up on bike!  I had to be so disciplined throughout that entire race, and it wasn't until I had 10K left that I felt like I could breathe.  Even then I was concerned about my focus.  That entire race was like having a gun to the back of my head for 6 hours. 

In spite of having to crawl out from under all these lows lately, I already feel just a little stronger.  I feel like if I didn't have all these sh*tty experiences, that maybe I wouldn't have the tenacity to make it through races like Lonestar or even worse, last year's Redman.

So "Here, here!" to coming up and out of sh*tty experiences!  :)

Which brings me to my point..

One of the blogs I follow is "LP (Dwarf) Triathlete"  he's a little person who absolutely loves triathlon. There's no doubting his passion and drive for the sport.  I've been following him for a while now and he's pretty inspiring (as you might imagine).  He has that mental tenacity, that doesn't allow him to quit, no matter what he's facing.  He recently did his first 70.3 (here's his race report) and it was a rough day for him, but he finished -- and he's living proof that mental strength is just as important as physical endurance.

3 comments:

trifitmom said...

thanks for sharing. i agree mental toughness has to be trained and it ain't always easy.....

silken said...

thanks for the nudge! I had a tough time getting out of bed this a.m., just starting my period and feeling S-L-O-W....but that's part of training the mind along w/ the body, for me....and congrats for seeing/feeling a little stronger as you go along!

Anonymous said...

So glad I saw this today! Thanks for writting about it!

Sharla
still can't sign in with blogger

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