Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mental toughness

The theme for fall is mental toughness. I have come to learn that it is every bit as important as physical conditioning for success in training and racing, and it is something that JRP has stressed as we work toward the Richmond Marathon.

For me, mental toughness is about the ability to turn the screws on myself and redline it longer than I think I can. It's about producing the required effort to meet demand even if I am tired or not 100%. It's also about mental toughness with even the smallest choices of the day - doing what I need to do and not necessarily what I want to do.

Mental toughness was put to the test at the 15 mile Brush Mountain Breakdown in the Jefferson National Forest yesterday. It's a very hilly course with leaf-covered obstructions, rocky paths, creek crossings, mud bogs, singletrack mountainside trails, slick downhill switchbacks, and the famous (and humbling) Jacob's Ladder. This run allows for no lapses in concentration to assure solid footing. Examples of mental toughness on this run -
  • Running as much of Jacob's Ladder as possible, and when walking was unavoidable, having the fortitude to pick the run back up despite the fact that it was all uphill.
  • Recovering fast from a fall and resuming running, not knowing if I was OK or not, and still finishing strong.
Other examples I can draw on from the past few months:
  • The treadmill workout that began with successive quarter miles of 9 mph, 9.5, and 10 and ended with those in reverse. I was anxious about that workout for days leading up to it but dug in and did it. It showed me that I had more speed in me than I thought.
  • Being super tired but fixing rice, pasta, eggs, and chicken late at night for the next day's carb loading.
  • Running a strong 19 miles on a Friday morning before work because a weekend run didn't fit the schedule.
  • Pushing without letup for 21:27 in the Homecoming 5K, remembering the 3 seconds that knocked me out of first in the triathlon and vowing not to give up anything that day. Finished with a strong kick - no other way to do it.
  • Running 13 miles after not feeling well the day before
  • Cycling up the steep hill of Happy Hollow at Harding, legs burning, counting pedal strokes, suffering oxygen debt, but not letting up.
  • The last 400 yards or so of the 8 mile trail run when I just let everything out, had faith that my feet would find stable footing, and just watched the woods go by in a blur.
  • Stadium switchbacks with legs screaming stop by the end, but not giving in.
  • 10 sets of 7 dips, thinking there was just no possible way, but I did it.
  • Working out this morning at the gym and hitting the day's benchmarks despite being worn out and sore.