“How do I get through an endurance event mentally?” is a question that regularly comes up in conversations or on forum chats, with the most common of responses being keep your mind strong, stay focused, push through etc, etc. Whilst these sayings are all great, how do we actually bring these into effect when our body is pushing our mind with every step, pedal stroke, to quit?
I have personally used the “Cookie Jar” which, I think, is a great method. Created by David Goggins, it’s a process by which you use previous successes in life to fuel you in your current difficulty. I would definitely recommend you take a look at his book and learn more about this.
I want to write about an alternative method I use which is the “preventative process”. I am a great believer in prevention over cure and so this method sits well with me.
When we head out on a long tough endurance session, we know in our minds we will at some point hit that point when our mind says that’s it, time to stop and head home, this is too much. This concept suggests that we actually start preparing our minds before it happens, we accept it’s on the way and we create our counter plan. To make this easier to understand, take a look at my example.
I have an average mountain run route which is approximately 2 hours long with 800m of elevation. More often than not, after 2 miles of going up, I reach a point where my motivation vanishes- this is so hard, I must stop or even quit and head down, are the usual thoughts in my head.
To combat this, I prepare myself before that feeling happens. I know when it’s going to happen, so at mile 1 I start the plan. I tell myself that this is going to happen and in detail I go through how I will feel. I agree with myself that I will only need 10 seconds of recovery and then I can carry on moving (so making a deal with the negative mind before it kicks in) I can even introduce a reason to take that pause if my mind needs it- it’s time to take on a gel or have a drink for example.
I repeat the above, going into lots of detail to keep my mind more focused on the what I do once I reach that point. Trying to ignore the feeling will not help as the negative (or as Steve Peters would say the chimp) will already have control and the battle will either be lost or very, very draining.
I know, it almost sounds too simple and yes, it is very simple in theory. Putting it into practise takes some work but trust me if you can commit to it you will find you reach new heights in your endurance events and challenges. You must stay switched on to all your warning signs, recognising these is a critical part or you will not get the preventive thought process in place in time.
There is an added extra to this that I found out just by chance when putting it into practise. While using this method on a regular tough route, I found that just going through the prevention thought process meant I was going further before I was hitting my (lets call it) false limit. Making this connection creates a crystal clear link to mind over matter. There was no other changes in training, terrain or nutrition but my mind has been so busy focusing on getting ready, it’s almost forgotten to remind me that we are at that point.
When it comes to psychology, the methods that work for some will never work for others, so while this method works for me you may need to adapt or use something completely different. Some will get cross and angry at themselves (this method can increase later burnout, but still can work).
With all my athletes I get them to listen to what’s going on in their bodies and minds while training. Don’t just go out- every run, ride etc is a chance to learn more about yourself. I have been competing with others and now with myself for 30 plus years and I am still learning and pushing my limits.
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