Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Real Workout Starts When You Want to Stop

Jannine Myers

Last week Anna made some very valid points about forcing the body to keep going, even when your brain is screaming, "NOOOOOO!!!!" Recently, while out walking (and yes, you read that right, we were out "walking"), Anna and I talked about this whole concept of training the mind to "accept" new levels of pain and discomfort.

In Hokkaido, the extreme heat conditions caused Anna's brain to fire off a wave of warnings in a desperate attempt to shut down her body and force her to stop running. But, as Anna told us, she ignored the warnings and kept running. What happened? Did she pass out or collapse? No. Why? Probably because her brain was able to perceive a heightened level of tolerance and re-set it's danger threshold.

[Disclaimer: Before I go on, I just want to say that what Anna and I have discussed and what we have concluded in our own minds, is simply that! We are not offering professional or backed-up information, and nor are we saying that you should all continue running when you are in pain, or when you don't feel "right'." What we are saying however, is that we think it's possible to train ourselves to push through those really trying moments and come through successfully.]

I remember a friend once telling me, that in preparation for an ultramarathon she ran, she often went out on her training runs alone. She recalled one particular hike she did by herself, where she climbed the mountain behind her home and spent seven long hours doing so.

Some of you may have seen this picture already on our Woot Facebook page - this is the mountain behind my friend's home!
I asked her why she deliberately set out on long, solo runs and hikes by herself, and her response was, "Well, when you run an ultramarathon, you often find yourself running alone for long stretches at a time. If I don't train myself to feel comfortable in that type of situation, then how will I handle it on race day?" Of course, why hadn't I thought of that! Why had it not occurred to me that a well-rounded training regimen should also include some aspect of pyschological training?

While I'm no expert in "mind-training," and therefore unable to offer much advice in that area, I can however, provide for you some great insight on this topic, by four-time Kona Champion, Chrissy Wellington.The following is a compilation of some of my favorite excerpts (in no particular order) from her book, A Life Without Limits:

"You should maintain the same level of concentration in training as you would when racing. It’s no use imagining you will miraculously develop that focus on race day. It won’t happen, and you will have neglected a fundamental part of your program. You wouldn’t go into a race without any physical training, so why would you go in without any mental?"  

"There is a lot of repetitive activity in an athlete’s life…and you need to learn how to handle it. The best way of improving your capacity to endure boredom is to endure boredom. Spend time training on your own and challenge your mind to stay focused."

"In an endurance athlete’s life, pain is never far away. As pain is little more than conversation between your body and your brain, this is another reason why a fit mind is important. The brain is the master computer of the body. Even when we are working on the efficiency of the peripheral components - the legs, the arms, the butt cheeks - we can recruit the seat of all power to enhance the effectiveness of our work. It’s a question of testing limits. For a start, there’s the importance of keeping an open mind. The brain is programmed to protect us, and that can mean imposing limits on what it thinks we can or should do. Constantly push at those limits, because the brain can be way too cautious. Not too long ago I would have laughed if someone suggested I could do an iron man. Imagine if I had allowed that attitude to persist. It is up to each and every one of us to change the “I can’t” into “I can.”

"I am motivated above all by that little voice inside that urges me on to fulfill my potential. Everyone has that same voice in them somewhere, but many are too scared to listen to it, too scared to try, too scared of failure. That fear is immobilizing, but it is also our own personal construct and therefore doesn’t exist in reality. Never imagine anything is impossible, and never stop trying out new things."

"The brain is constantly trying to impose limits on what it thinks it can achieve. We should constantly question it, fight it. That means enduring pain. …Not the mechanical kind, which warns us that something has broken down - but the pain that is our brain’s way of telling us it doesn’t like how hard we are working. …This is not gratuitous masochism. This is a very real process of refinement going on. You are not just working your muscles and lungs, you are working your brain to learn to accept each new level of exertion as something that can be endured safely. The brain will try to dig it’s heels in. Eventually it will prevail, because of course, there ARE limits. Having a sense of what really is too much is always crucial. The key is to push that point back as far as possible. The interface between the conservative and ambitious impulses in the brain should be a front of continual struggle. And remembering the pain of previous sessions or races we have successfully endured gives us the confidence to go through it again, and the evidence to present to the brain that we are capable of handling it."

Remember ladies, the real workout starts when you want to stop!

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