Many of you will know of our running mantra of the “Four F’s”, which focuses by and large on the physical, but what about the mental too? Just this week we’ve seen England cricketer, Jonathon Trott leave the team mid tour suffering from depression, and his is the latest in a long line of high profile sportsmen and women to publicly admit their challenges. Indeed, Salomon’s latest video featuring Anna Frost, touches upon this very issue too. It’s fair to say that while we train our bodies to deal with the physical, so little time is spent on dealing with the mental side too.
Salomon team member and ultra runner, Matt Cooper is a big advocate of making sure that the mental side of your preparation is just as important as the physical, and as an NLP practitioner and Performance Coach, he knows a thing or two about this kind of stuff and a few years ago drafted this article for us – we thought it high time that dealing with the mental was placed firmly on the agenda once again. In this guest article, Matt provides a few thoughts for us. While the focus is on mental preparation for racing, there are certainly some lessons in here for us all, over and above racing. Towards the bottom of this article we’ve also posted a video that many of you will have seen from the guys at Wild Plans (http://wildplans.com/) that delves into some aspects of this mental side too. We hope it helps.
‘Preparation’ is vital for running ultras. Physical health, nutrition, water, feet, support, weather, mental health and focus are all essential, but the fine line in racing, leading to dictate a DNF after your name or not, is what you do when your ‘preparation’ doesn’t go to plan. After all, even the best ultra race plans won’t go exactly to plan, that’s why we love them.
It is in these moments when you are at the 75km mark or the 130km mark and feelings start to override your thoughts, your focus, your determination, and your ability to keep going.
Something you might want to ask yourself here is the following: Is it your feelings of pain that are overriding your thoughts or is it your thoughts that are overriding and creating the pain? After all, does pain exist without thought?
In the last week of race preparation the doors are all but shut physically, but mentally they have never been open wider. In fact, it is this week that you stand at the fork in the trail. What you tell yourself this week about your race ‘preparation’ will have a great influence on your results.
When the feelings of pain, tiredness, exhaustion come into play throughout the run, it doesn’t matter how much prep you have done, if your thoughts fall below the line and go back to those such as… did I train enough, did I do enough hills, have I eaten right, did I drink enough, it wasn’t this hot when I trained, old injuries… it is only your answers here that will determine your consequence actions and therefore determine your result.
I encourage all the runners to engage in a few simple practices which will ensure their mindset is also in an optimum state, matching their already superior trained bodies.
I know many runners would have already done this, but it is also this week that is a great time to become very clear on the visualisation of crossing that line. Take time to close your eyes, relax, breath and focus on creating that amazing picture – the end goal.
Picture the finish… if you haven’t seen it before yet, check out the race photos of previous years or ‘Google’ it. Picture seeing yourself there… Think of the smiles, the applause, the emotion of knowing that you have completed such an amazing feat, the support crew and the organisers and volunteers.
Hear the sounds that you will hear, the cheering of your own support, the stillness of the moment, the internal praise of what you are saying to yourself “you did it”. Feel all the feelings that come along when you say that to yourself, the tingles, the overwhelming sense of achievement and pure dedication and know that you have now grown to a place that you never would have been before had you not put this vision in place and trusted in your own amazing ability.
Another simple practice for runners whilst out on the trail in those times when you catch your thoughts of not doing enough preparation, is to simply become aware of where you are right now. Grab a leaf from a tree (there’s plenty out there) or rub your hands in the dirt – bring your focus and energy back to the only place energy can ever exist – The Present. Smile, laugh or even cry and accept that it is purely only through thought that you can be defeated today, as without thought there is no energy loss or pain and you have all the re-sources you could ever need to complete a 100 miler/100ker.
But it’s not just about mental preparation for a race. In this rather excellent video put together by the guys at Wild Plans, Australian ultra runner Tegyn Angel attempts to place some rationality around the irrational, delving into the mental aspects and at times, addiction of running. It’s a stark and highly personal account, which I’m sure many of us relate too. It also begs the question and explores the sub-theme of why we run, an often analysed but often-not answered question. Why? Because it’s all so highly personal. It requires us to delve into the depths of our own brains and try to work it out for ourselves.
But do we need to work it out? Maybe we should just let it be and accept that we run because it’s just a part of what we do – sometimes there is no need to explain it – maybe this could help us rationalise and deal with the mental side of what we do?