Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Start with the finish.

Yesterday, while I was taking Stanley for a spin, I listened to a podcast from Trail Runner Nation, entitled, "It's All in Your Head." featuring German ultramarathoner, Anna Hughes.  I chose it because it was the exact length in time that I needed to complete my run I tend to be a slightly mental person... and I mean that in ever sense of the word... yes, I'm crazy.

The podcast was an interesting listen focused around the mental aspects of racing with specification towards longer, ultra distances.  Anna spoke a fair amount about the importance of training one's mind in addition to one's body.  What I got from it was that when training for an event, the mental preparation is equally if not slightly more important than the physical effort put forth.  Don't get me wrong, it wouldn't work to merely visualize the race and all the aspects of how to get there, it still requires an obscene amount of hard leg work to pull out a solid performance, but being mentally prepared provides the little bit extra to give the desired results.

I was pretty impressed to realize, based on what Anna was saying, that I do a fairly decent job of being mentally prepared for races. She talked about spending time each day visualizing every aspect of the course and also picturing oneself transversing it.  She also talked about doing as much research as you can about the race course itself.  If it isn't possible for you to spend time training on the particular course (which is by far THE best thing one can do) the next best thing is to get information from other people who have.  With the Internet and Google (my favorite invention of all time - I don't know how I ever lived without it) it is really quite easy to find out a lot about a race before race day.  Simply google the race, or the course and you're bound to come up with at least one race report or training report from someone else who has run it before.  If you're lucky, you'll even find photos and videos that will truly make your mental preparation even easier.   I don't spend as much time with structured race type mediation but I think I do alright thinking myself through the course and my race day preps as well as pouring over every tiny printed detail I can come up with.

finishing the Ridgeline Ramble trail marathon

There were a couple of points that Anna mentioned that I hadn't really considered before.  She suggested that it was important to not just dwell on all the positive things but factor in some negative mental preparation as well.  Unfortunately the podcast didn't really go into much detail over what to do with the negative thoughts.  My assumption is that it is important to prepare for times during a race when you feel like you can't go on.  Feel your body being tired or hungry or hurting and then prepare your mind to find some more strength and draw on some positive energy to pull you through those tough patches.  The other point she made was that when visualizing the race itself, she likes to begin at the finish line and work her way backwards.  Even if she has never seen the finish line for a particular race, she pictures herself crossing any finish line, with her arms raised above her head in triumph, completely exhausted but elated at the same time.  From there, she then works her way backwards over the course until she is at the start full of energy and ready to race.  I always run myself mentally through my races but I've never started at the finish.  I think it could be very beneficial to begin at the end because then there is no doubt that you will get there.

I think that mental preparedness can be applied to so many different aspects of our lives... it doesn't have to be just about racing.  You could mentally prepare for a training run or other workout or even something in your day to day life.  For example, if I start at the finish, I can imagine all the laundry nice and neatly folded in the various drawers it belongs in, then I can see myself putting it away, then folding it, then taking it out of the laundry basket, coming home from the laundry mat (yep, still no dryer) and so on until I'm left with some dirty clothes in the hamper waiting to be washed.  If I want to factor in the negative preparations I just need to visualize overcoming taking 3 kids and 2 baskets full of soaking wet clothes to the laundry mat in addition to having 2 kids later on mess up my nicely folded piles while the 3rd yells to be held.  I can do this! :)

How about you?  Do you mentally prepare yourself for races?  Do you apply mental toughness into other areas of your life?  The mind is an amazing thing and with a little practice it can definitely be used to one's own advantage.


Janet said...

I have never gone over a race in my mind but I know that running is very mental. I can do really well or very poorly according to my mental outlook. I usually know before I start a run how it will go according to what my mind is doing that day.

The Tewksburys said...

I think mental preparation is half the battle. If my mind isn't in it there is no way my body will be. Here is one of my favorite quotes:
"If you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the
mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give
up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the
mind is not tired."
- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Ama_Runs said...

I've heard many ultrarunners say that they train for the bonk. I'm still working on it. I don't think I've trained as well mentally as I could have this year, so that will be something to focus on next year. I like the idea of applying mental training to life in general - like doing the laundry or the dishes. Or just getting out of bed in the morning! :)