Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cheryl's USA Triathlon Life Magazine Article

In the recent summer issue, I address how athletes can mentally "push through the veil of discomfort." See article below. Links to previous my articles and webinars will be available soon.

“And he decided that pain was no valid reason for stopping.” --- Atlas Shrugged
Marathoners describe hitting the wall. Cyclists recount how “the man with the hammer” got them. Many athletes have talent, but not all athletes have the ability to break through the pain barrier. This comes from many hours of training both physically and mentally. The most successful athletes use their minds as allies instead of obstacles.
Last week, one of my clients became concerned in the days leading up to his marathon. “My biggest fear is that I will tank and be struggling to even do 10-minute miles those last several miles, and telling myself that I’m not strong enough,” he said. The first half of the race will be fun and exciting. I will just kind of trot along, thinking about my form, and enjoying the view. But when I start to hurt around the 18-mile mark and beyond, what should I focus on?”
First remember that the proverbial brick wall is really self-doubt. Experience tells athletes what to do and confidence allows them to do it. Confidence is knowing you are mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared so that on race day you can do battle with everything you have. In “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” Don Millman says that “any obstructions you have ever encountered or may ever encounter are the direct result of insufficient or improper preparation.” Almost every difficulty we face can be linked to skipping essential training steps in the past—to a weakness in our foundation.
As we grow weary, war erupts in our mind. The left and right brain hemispheres debate the merits and ridiculousness of this event. The left, logical side insists tentative rewards are not worth the hazards, spotlighting the physical warnings. The creative, image-oriented right side applauds undaunted efforts, spurred forward with visions of the finish banner, cheering spectators and the afterglow of pride.
Before confronting the enemies (pain and self-doubt), I recommend preparing a mental arsenal full of weapons to be used when needed. This should include motivational quotes and music, pictures of inspiring people or places, movie clips from your best previous performances, and vivid images of a strong, successful finish.
Don’t turn your fears into reality by assuming that pain is a given in every race. For instance, many athletes begin looking for the infamous wall at mile 22. This becomes a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth is that many personal bests are set effortlessly by athletes who describe that magical feeling of performing in “the zone.”
Pushing through physical and mental limitations takes time and persistence. It doesn’t magically happen overnight. If realistic and gradual demands are placed on the body it will adapt. Likewise, if the mind is given progressive challenges, it develops in strength. Expand your comfort zone. Learn how to push through the veil of discomfort. Lou Piniella said, “You have to learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Q: When I don’t think my body can handle the pain and I want to just quit, how do I tough it out?
A: Try not to resist the discomfort, but reframe and redefine what you are experiencing. When you’re running on empty and your quads are screaming, consider these “growing pains” as you are stretched toward your full potential. Instead of focusing on pain that won’t be ending anytime soon, remember the discomfort is temporary. Break challenges into manageable increments. All-out effort speed and hill workouts are ideal for simulating race day. Pay attention to breathing. Breath control is a key factor of emotional control and therefore performance control.

Q: I understand that self-talk plays a big role in successful performances. What can I tell myself those last grueling four or five miles so that I maintain pace?
A: Concentrating fully on one thing doesn’t leave much room for anything else so concentrate on positive mantras. Some of my favorites are: “Pain is just weakness leaving your body”, “That which does not kill us, makes us strong”, “Narrow the gap between what you are and what you want to be”, and “The greatest victory is the victory over ourselves. Remember it’s always too soon to quit.”
Postscript: My client (whose previous best marathon was 4:20) finished the Lincoln Marathon in 3:45, far exceeding his goal to break four hours. Congratulations, Don Mares!