Monday, March 14, 2016

Is your mind holding you back?

I recently read an article titled “How Bad Do You Want It? – A Closer Look at the Mind’s Role in Endurance Sports.” By Matt Fitzgerald on  For quite a while I have been looking into how much of a role the mind plays into reaching or exceeding our goals in running.  Some people just run for exercise, or just for fun, with no desire to run fast or break any personal records.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It doesn’t matter if you run a 5 minute mile or a 20 minute mile, enjoying yourself and improving your health is the most important thing. 

This post is primarily for people who challenge themselves to reach that next level.  Some of these people need to run fast or they can’t enjoy the run.  If they don’t PR, they have failed.  Some people train hard and try to PR, but are okay if it doesn’t happen.  They still enjoy the adventure and growth.  I fall in the latter category.  I train very hard, sometimes too hard (just ask my wife), and do set goals for myself.  How does my mind play into reaching those goals though?

The article talks about perceived effort, or how hard a workout feels.  Have you ever been out on a really hard run or race and thought that you could not last any longer at the pace you are running?  The article states, “One cannot improve as an endurance athlete except by changing one’s relationship with perception of effort.”  You can train to your peak perceived potential, but over time, what was once your fastest pace you could maintain for a specific distance will change.  You have increased your physical capability.  This in turn will also change how you perceive that effort.

Say you used to run a 11:00 min/mile pace for 5 miles and it was relatively difficult (say a perceived difficulty of 8 out of 10).  As you train, that same pace might become easier (a 5 out of 10).  You would need to push a pace of 9:30 min/mile to get the same perceived effort (8 out of 10).  If you are pushing at your peak effort (say a perceived effort of 8-9), your pace will get faster at that same effort. 

Why is this important though?  Many athletes are afraid that if they take it easy when their plan calls for it, they will get slower, or have self-doubt in their abilities come race time.  To reach your potential, you need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I strongly feel (and research backs up this belief) that you can do way more than your mind can admit.  I have found time and time again that my body wants to quit, but if I can just quiet the voice in my head, I can excel.  Sometimes it only takes a minute or two before the fatigue disappears.

In almost every race I have PR’d, I had to battle that voice in my head saying that “I can’t go any farther” or “I need to just slow down for a minute or two to catch my breath.”  I battled through and did things that I could have never imagined. 

I use tricks like telling myself that I will rest in a ¼ mile or I start counting my breathing to keep my mind off of the fatigue.    I like this quote from Matt Fitzgerald, “It is not possible to succeed at the highest level of any major endurance sport with a B+ mental game.”

While I am just a weekend warrior, I totally agree with the premise of the quote. You will never reach your next goal if you don’t try to push beyond your current perceived potential.  What tricks do you use to tackle the voices in your head?

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