Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Aspect of Mental Stamina

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


When I think about the concept of mental stamina in endurance sports, I often conjure up images of "toughing out" a difficult race, or perhaps, forcing myself to head out for a training session despite not being "in the mood". However, lately I've been thinking a lot about another aspect of mental stamina - the issue of how we deal with setbacks, frustrations, or injuries, and often, the subsequent change of plans or goals we've previously set.

If there's been a consistent thread throughout my three year "Triathlon Lifestyle Journey", it's been that nothing is consistent. It seems that any time things seem to going well, something else crops up to mess with my body and my head. It could be pressure from work, an unexpected injury, a too-busy life schedule that negatively affects my ability to prepare for a race in the way I had wanted. All of these things are challenges that every athlete must face from time to time, and perhaps even more so, for the new, or older, athlete. We want it all, too soon, and when things go wrong, we get can get frustrated and often, we quit.

The ability to persevere in the face of these normal and ongoing challenges is an important quality of a successful endurance athlete. To be able to stop when a roadblock is thrown in your path, reassess the situation, and then continue on, is a critical feature.

For me, it follows a common pattern. Things are going well, I am feeling good, my training is working well, everything is going according to plan, and then BAM, I have another minor injury - shins, ITB, hip, pain in the ball of foot, you name it, I've had it. Suddenly, I can't do what I was planning to do, in the way I was planning to do it.

I seem to have to go through several stages - often, my gut reaction is somewhat childish and I usually have to rant or whine for a short while. I need to get mad and get it off my chest. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, but usually, I'm just frustrated and angry. I think these are all pretty normal reactions. But the difference between a "regular" person and an endurance athlete, is mental stamina - the ability to "deal with it" and move on and not just give up when the first problem occurs.

I am constantly reminded of Randy Pausch's statement in his presentation called "The Last Lecture" when he said, and I paraphrase,

"Roadblocks are there to test your commitment to your goals".

I see this ability to persevere through adversity as a form of mental stamina. An endurance athlete must be able to get over the frustration/feel-sorry-for-yourself stage of a new problem quickly, and then move on. Deal with it or accept it, and move on.

On Sunday, April 25, 2010, I went for a run. It was a perfect long run ~ 18.2 km in 2 hours. I felt wonderful throughout the run and had a huge burst for speed at the end - in fact, at that moment, I felt as if I could have just kept on running forever. I hold that day clearly in my mind ~ I can see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, and taste it ~ it was a peek into my potential. And now, whenever I feel frustrated with my running, I reflect upon that day and know that I can, and will, do it again.


Once again, I find myself waylaid by shin splints. How and why isn't really important but I suspect it is from running a little too fast and too long a few weeks ago. Who knows. At any rate, they hurt constantly on my last run a week ago, and it was clear to me and my coach that I was going to have to take some time off running again. Although it was supposed to be a big training week, only 2 weeks out from my race, I wasn't going to be able to run. Suddenly, I was torn - should I do the race or should I skip it this year? This race is huge to me but I've been plagued with nagging injuries all summer and my training and fitness level are not where they should be.

After my successful sprint last May, I had big dreams of PRing the race in August. Later, as my ITB acted up for a month after the Half Iron, I readjusted those dreams and changed my goal to completing my first Olympic distance triathlon. Now I find myself having to change my plan yet again, only 10 days out from my race. There's nothing I can do about my shins, so it's time to reassess my goals and move on.

However, I've decided that I won't let this setback cancel my race plans. I will focus on my successes earlier this season and know that I can be proud of my season - I had a great sprint tri in May, and I survived my first half iron and ran a PR 5k race in June.

So on Sunday, August 22, I am going to compete in the Apple Sprint Triathlon. I probably won't be hitting any PR's or experiencing a new challenge (the olympic distance), or placing in my division, but I've decided I'm just going to go out there and have fun. That's what this is all about isn't it? Being fit, enjoying life, getting out there and doing our best with whatever set circumstances we have to deal with? Definitely.

I won't be running all this week. I will pool run on Saturday. If all goes well, I may do one easy run next week but probably no bricks. And then on the following Sunday, I will do my best because I choose to find success in life and in my training and I'm choose to beat the mind game.


Kabekona Tri Girl said...

LOVE it, great attitude Barb, keep it up!

Glenn Jones said...

Great attitude. Sorry about all the roadblocks. I'm not so sure woul be reacting the same way...