Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Mental Game

            Back when I was in high school, I remember being told that running was 80% mental.  I had a hard time believing that.  Running wasn’t ever easy, or natural for me.  I was too slow for sprints or distance.  I preferred field events when it came to track, and I would run on my own a little, but usually just 2-3 miles.  During my early years in college, I ran my first 10K with my sister.  I think I had made my way up to running 5 miles as my longest run before it, and I always had an incredibly hard time running any faster than a 10 minute pace.  The 10K took me more than an hour to finish, and my sister went slow with me so I wouldn't finish last alone.  Running did not feel 80% mental.  It felt 100% physical and I was terrible at it.
            There have been many times though, whether it be in a race or in training, that it can become a matter of mind over body.  To keep pushing, day after day, workout after workout, takes a lot of discipline.  But I do not give myself the option.  It is not about whether I feel like getting in the pool today, or running hard, or pushing my legs on the bike until they burn treacherously.  My body doesn’t always feel like doing these things, but usually I can mentally push myself through it anyway.  It also seems that sports psychology has become more prevalent, or at least more apparent to me.  It was only slightly talked about in high school (where the whole “running is 80% mental” was heard), but I don’t remember being taught how to use this powerful tool.  Now I’ve been reading about it all over the place it seems, and I have my own mantras I use when I’m out on the course that have helped me to push through.
            There are a couple things that I like to remind myself of when I don’t feel like putting in a tough session (simply because tough usually doesn’t feel very good).  First, I remember my competition that I want to beat this season.  There are some fierce competitors out there, and if I want to close the gap on them, then I have a lot of work to do.  Second, I remind myself that I do this because it is FUN!  That’s why I fell in love with triathlon.  Tommy Bolin said, “If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.”  It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do all the stuff that isn’t fun, cause there’s certainly plenty of that in life.  However, if I’m choosing to pursue triathlon by pouring so much time and energy into it, then I better be having fun!
            There are also times when I feel like it becomes a matter of body over mind.  Baya has had an ear infection, and it has left me tired and exhausted.  I can handle the fatigue and exhaustion of training much easier than the sleep deprivation that can occur when your kid is sick!  My body is indeed exhausted.  When I got on my bike the other day, I felt more like taking a nap than pushing hard for two-20 minute intervals.  So I told myself to just go for the minimum watts for the set (187).  But after I got into the first interval, I realized I could go harder than that.  Soon I was nearing my highest watt number for a set like this, and then I surpassed it by time the first 20 minutes were up, hitting 200 watts.  My second set I ended up hitting 201.  Mentally, I was not there before I got on the bike, or even when I was warming up, but I had it in me, and my body knew it.  Sometimes, we can surprise ourselves like that. 
It is the mind that lets self-doubt creep in, and it is the mind that puts the biggest limitations on our bodies.  I remember when I ran my first 5K after having Baya.  The 5K should NEVER be belittled or looked down on as a “beginner’s race”.  It is a tough race, and I felt like every system in my body was being completely taxed.  It felt downright awful.  While running, I thought to myself, “And why do I like this?!”  Then I finished with a 20:14, breaking my PR by 30 seconds and thinking, “I LOVE this!”
There are of course some days that I need to adapt my training plan for the day because of what is best for both my mind and my body.  I have learned to not be too rigid, especially because having a kid means you have to be willing to be flexible.  But more often than not, when we think we can’t push anymore, it’s then that we can discover we still got a little bit more left to give.  That’s when big things happen.

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