Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mental Toughness

This weekend I ran a 5k.  For an Ironman triathlete, you would normally think a 5k should be nothing, but we're usually highly trained for endurance, not speed.  And in this case, as you can see HERE, this race also tested me on an aspect I had not trained for yet; Hills!

As I mentioned, the first two miles or so were fine.  Once I hit the main hill, I was tested.

I've had battles of mental toughness, or as I like to call them mind vs. body, before and know that I need to work on my own mental toughness in order to win those battles.  They usually go like this...

Mind: Keep going, keep going!  You can slow down if you need to, but do not walk.
Body: Walk?  That sounds like a great idea.
Mind: No!
(* I stop and walk *)
Mind: Get moving!  Stop walking!
(* I go back to running somehow unsure of how my body took over for a second there *)

It may sound trivial, but I do feel a separation of my mind and body in that I'm constantly fighting the bodily urge to slow down, walk, or rest.  I'm sure psych majors will scoff at this next comment, but I feel like it's close to having some sort of split personality.  I know it is an issue of mental toughness - being able to mentally work your way through physically demanding situations - but it feels like my body, in the form of more instinctual thoughts and reflexes, is gaining power over the thoughts I've attempted to ingrain in my head or that the latter is simply losing influence.

Have you ever felt that?

I admit, it's difficult to explain and quite odd to experience.  

Given all that, I was happy to have encountered this battle during the 5k yesterday.  Why?  Not because it's enjoyable in itself, but because I usually have to be well into a much longer race before I get to that point.  I was happy to have the test at a cheaper and shorter race.

Therefore, while I was on that hill feeling the split in my mind and body, I reminded myself that this is an opportune test.  
"If you can't overcome this battle at a 5k on a 500 foot hill, then how can you expect to beat it in the marathon of an Ironman?  How could you expect to be able to compete as an elite?  What chance do you have of really realizing your actual potential?"  
I had won!  Using some mental games (mental trickery) and determination, I beat my body and made it to the finish without walking.  I couldn't have been happier.  Sure, I could have run faster, but the bigger win was strengthening my mental toughness and adding another experience to the list of those I can pull from during future races.

The funny part is, I won that battle in part because of a feeling of sadness; that I truly do have a lot more to learn than I let myself think.  I don't have an immense, innate talent and I've shown that.  Plenty of seasoned triathletes can beat me.  Therefore, if I do want to get better and strive to be an elite athlete, it's going to have to be through pure determination with a lot more work on mental toughness. 

The race was a humbling and yet very uplifting experience.  Every once in awhile, you have to pull yourself out of the imaginary world you create and remind yourself that you still have plenty of work ahead. 


1.  How is your mental toughness?
Mine certainly comes and goes, but every experience with that battle helps strengthen both my mental toughness and the confidence I have about future battles.

2.  Do you work on mental toughness in your training?
Last year I used Crossfit style workouts which push myself to that same mental limit in order to practice my mental toughness.  I'm looking forward to adding those back into the mix.

3.  How do you address difficult mental/physical situations in a race?  Do you have a set method?
I've adapted certain mental tricks that seem to trick my "body" like telling myself "just go to the end of the street" and then once there I change it and say "just to that light" and so on.  I also very much enjoy crowds both as spectators and competitors; both seem to help take me out of my own body and strengthen my mental game.  

Dream.  Believe.  Achieve. 


Big Daddy Diesel said...

Everyone says that nutrition is the 4th discipline of traithlons, although I agree nutrition is very important, I disagree and think that mental toughness is the 4th discipline and we as athletes dont train enough on it


Mental toughness really one of the first disciplines in my book. Once you convince yourself what you are capable of, nothing is a hurdle.
Now 500 feet in a mile? That might change my mind.