Self-doubt is part of endurance racing. The struggle happens to everyone, and we all have probably succumbed to it at some point, whether during training or in an actual race. Sometimes you can just plow through it, forcing the mind to take over. Other times, you give in and suffer.
I know because I have done both. I love the feeling of having toughed it out, and I abhor the feeling of getting beat mentally. So, I started trying to figure out how I can avoid getting the feeling in the first place.
Gutting it out works, but shouldn’t I be able to do something before having to make that decision? After all, if I can’t bring myself to be ultimately tough, the only other option is to stop, and that’s not acceptable.
I realized that it had nothing to do with my fitness. I train pretty well, so my body can take it. It’s my mind that loses its motivation and starts to allow my body to feel worse than it should.
As a result, I resolved to trick myself. I had to learn to sense when my mind would begin to breakdown, and then I would institute a series of mental games to keep myself from reaching a decision point. Training the brain is equally as important as preparing the body, for without the mind, the body won’t work. Knowing this and accepting that everyone works differently, I started to read about what others do to beat this challenge, and I took time to think about how my individual thought process functions. This way I could take what I learned, mend it to fit my nature, and then put together a plan.
Here are a few of the little tricks I use to keep myself going.
1. Let people know: This is the only one that happens before the race or the training session. I found really successful triathletes would write on their Facebook pages or send Twitter messages about what they were doing that day. I don’t go that far, but I do let people know, like my co-workers or fiance, what I plan on doing that day. So, during the session, if I struggle, I remember the commitment I made out loud and it motivates me. I don’t want to have to tell people the next day that I quit if they ask how the workout went.
2. Relax: When I feel myself drifting mentally and my body starting to hurt, I do the opposite of what I want to do. Naturally I want to tense up, get angry, and push ahead. But, when you think about it, all that does is make you unbearably tense. If you watch a world class sprinter moving down the track, he is remarkably relaxed. His hands are nearly limp, and his face muscles literally flap. If you can get your body and mind to relax, you can perform and work through tough moments. I take deep breaths, slow my pace for a touch, and then refocus.
3. Mini-goals: For longer workouts or races, I always keep it simple and small. As a teacher, I watch far too many students crash and burn on long term assignments. They look at the enormity of the task and fail to ever get moving; the idea is just too overwhelming. So, as their teacher, I work with them to chunk it, breaking it down into manageable parts. This way, they taste success periodically, which motivates them to keep going and to complete the larger assignment. Same theory applies here. Make the race or workout about intervals or smaller benchmarks.
4. Dedicate parts: I read that Chrissie Wellington dedicates each mile she runs to an inspirational person in her life. I love this strategy. I will often pick a distance or a landmark to get to and give each step I take along the way to someone that matters to me. It creates this odd but inspirational responsibility that keeps me going.
5. Key touch: My college baseball coach told me to have a piece of my uniform that I always touch before stepping into the batter’s box. That piece of clothing should remind me of the focus I need to do my job. Whenever I touch it, I should be transported into a place that lets me be successful both mentally and physically. I take that same idea into triathlon. For me, I pick at the collar on my shirt, just underneath my chin. It’s odd but it works.
In the end, I wish I was always motivated and didn’t need the mental tricks. But, I am human and I struggle, so these are the ones that help me keep going. I hope some work for you.