Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Head games

Talk to any athlete and they will tell you that the most difficult challenge to overcome is our own sense of inadequacy. Usually this advice is targeted at the days and weeks preceding a race. That is the time when our mind keeps telling us we are not prepared. We have not trained enough. We are not strong enough, or fast enough. We will be the last person to finish. I have come to realize that the demon of self-doubt haunts us in other ways. Specifically, at different time intervals. The pre-race jitters are the most talked about, but I propose that the successful athlete should be aware of other forms of the same demon.

One common and often overlooked version is the "I could never do that" excuse. This is what the couch potato says when contemplating getting out and running every day for exercise. It is what the devoted two mile morning runner says when someone suggests they run a marathon. Believe it or not, it even attacks the experienced mid-distance triathlete thinking about doing an Ironman race. I call this the long duration demon, because it prevents people from even starting.

At the other extreme is the short duration demon. This one pops up in every race and every good workout. I can't go any faster. I can't go any further. My legs hurt, so I should slow down, maybe take a rest for a minute. That one.

I had an experience of the short duration demon on this morning's Tantalus ride. I had been keeping up with the ride leader and a couple of other riders until we came to a place where the rate of climb kicks up to around 10 percent, at which point I got dropped. I felt my respiration increase, double checked that my heart rate had indeed risen a little. I hung on, doing my own thing like I always do, watching the group ride away. Then along comes this younger, wiry guy who blew past me and hardly breathing at all. For some crazy reason I jumped onto his wheel and in no time was back with the group.

We often hear about this watching professional bike races. On a flat stage there is aerodynamic drafting to explain the benefit of one rider leading another, but what is the advantage on a climb? It is all in the head. I thought I was maxed out and unable to ride any harder. Then along came this faster guy and I decided to hang with him. And I did. Same old bones. Same struggling muscles. Same weathered lungs. At one point I could not, and then I could. It feels like magic. All it really is, is not listening to that demon in my head telling me I cannot climb that fast.

One way to conquer our demon is to live in the moment. Our demon tells us stories about the future. Stay in the present and deal with what is so. The future will take care of itself. Just after a race -- even a challenging workout -- our demon will tell us stories about the past. We wish we had done better. We wish we could have gone faster, or farther. In time those demon grows weary and moves on. What remains is what we should have known all along, our success.

This TrainingPeaks webinar will be of interest to anyone doing long distance events. "Developing Mental Toughness" featuring Carrie Cheadle, Thursday, April 9, 2015, 11:00AM MDT (7:00AM HST). It will be recorded, so if you can't make the live broadcast you can always get a re-play.

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