Staying Mentally Tough
I recently raced at the Curt Gowdy Xterra race in Wyoming. The day was hot, the course was tough and pushing hard the entire way wasn’t easy. Just my kind of race!
After a solid swim, which I cruised, I hopped on my mountain bike and had some fun. I made quite a few obstacles that I didn’t make in the pre-ride and crashed on a couple that I had made on the pre-ride. So, it was a mix of good and bad. I did have lots people pass me and I passed some others back. The course was challenging and made me realize why I love Xterra racing: I have a long way to go to get to the top of my Age Group!
After the 14 mile bike, we finished with a 5 mile run, through some of the same trails that we rode on. By the time I got to the run, my legs were pretty tired, my breathing was labored, but I was motivated to hunt down as many people as I could. I started out easy and passed 3 people before the first mile. This ensured me that I wouldn’t be last to the finish line. No, really, don’t laugh. You haven’t seen me mountain bike! Next came a few rollers that were mostly rolling up. My legs didn’t like this and neither did my lungs. I could see 1 or 2 people in the distance and I just ran steady to try and get closer until I could pass them. One by one I picked off a few more athletes. This was starting to get fun and around every turn I was looking to pass more people. Most of the runners could hear me coming and would move off the trail, which was very kind. Some runners didn’t move out of my way (as is the courtesy thing to do) and I was forced to move into the thorny bushes to pass, but I didn’t mind. I just kept on trucking.
I came to the hardest part of the run and came up on a group of 4 people, who were all walking, They were separated by 20 seconds each, slowly making their way up the hill. I was determined to not walk or slow down. Well, I was going so slow I’m not sure I was capable of slowing down, but I ran by with my lungs searing, my legs full of lactic acid, and my mind was begging me to stop. I thought it would have been nice to walk right then. It would have felt a lot easier in the moment to take the easy road. Instead I resisted the temptation and pushed on. I knew I had to get away from the pack of walkers or I too, would get sucked into walking. It was definitely one of these moments that ‘everyone is doing it and it’s ok if you do it too’.
This was definitely my ‘moment’ in the race. I had pushed pretty hard for almost 2.5 hours at this point. I was tired. I wanted to give in. I wanted to walk. I wanted it to be easy. To combat the negative feelings, I didn’t think about how long I’d been out there or how tired I was. I kept thinking that I probably had 15 minutes of hard running left, with at least 1 mile of it being down hill. Breaking it down into manageable pieces is what gets me through most tough situations. Really, for me, this isn’t any different than tackling a pile of dishes, pots and pans after a big family dinner. I start with the hard stuff first (for me it’s the big pans) and then work my way down to the dishes and glasses. In this race, I did end up running away from the peer pressure of walking and made my way past a few more people in the last stretch of the race. I certainly wasn’t running fast, but I gave it everything I had in those last 2 miles.
As for me, once again I found that moment when I had to push very hard, with very little in the tank, and overcame the negative voices in my head. When you’ve been racing for many years, sometimes you question whether you have that ‘mental tenacity’ any longer. You will question your intestinal fortitude. Sometimes you hear that voice telling you to stop, that ‘it’s ok to walk’, to take it easy, let the pain subside. Or you can simply choose to ignore the voices and push on. The feeling after the race is so much better when you’ve pushed through and reached a whole new level of mental toughness. This builds your confidence for the next time. My recommendation to you is to get out there and jump into a race that will test your limits. A race that will push you to a new level of pain, physically and mentally. Maybe it’s running a 5k or your first sprint triathlon. But really, it doesn’t matter what it is, because it’s all relative. Just get out there and try something challenging. You owe it to yourself to find your limits. Isn’t that what life is about?