Slaying Dragons

January 8, 2016

Demons and dragons are all over the place. Learn how to slay them.

We are often faced with a series of challenges when it comes to life, training and racing. What is the root cause of that struggle? Is it because we think we don’t train enough? Is it because we don’t think we have the right equipment? Do we think we did not get enough sleep the night before the race? All of these have one commonality. The word “think.” This is where an athlete’s mental game can be the difference between winning a race and DNF. The difference between PR and implosion. What should an athlete do?

The initial problem we all face is the now. When a mental “demon ” or “dragon” creeps in, that beast takes all the space in an athlete’s mind. We don’t look forward, sideways or back, we focus solely on the present. This consumes us. There is not one athlete that doesn’t have to face this. It might be the open water swim. It could be the distance that has never been done. That thing might be the search for a PR or qualifying for some other event. So how do we face this monster?

If you believe you will fail, you will. This is a simple axiom. There is a way to defeat the demon but like any other part of your training you will have to practice and train your mental side as well. The first step will be a moment of mental clarity. Start with looking at yourself from the “outside.” When we are in our own heads we are too close to the problem to see the solution. From the outside you can begin to find that solution. From this moment of clarity will come a realization. That realization might be “You aren’t going to die if you run that hard. It hurts but it won’t end you.” That realization might be if “You can walk/run, you will absolutely finish this race,” and on and on. Realization is an amazing thing.

From that realization comes the solution. More often than not the solution is in your training. If you are terrified in the open water, the solution might be to roll on your back like you did in training. If you are struggling on the run, you might realize you have to straighten you body and focus on that pain for it to go away. It could be going back to a hard run or bike that you thought would kill you but provided you the realization that it didn’t and it wouldn’t. Everything comes from training.

When you train there will often be hard efforts or long distances that give you the mental capacity to believe you can reach your goals. Often this is a product of “desensitization.” If you are wearing a watch or some piece of jewelry you have had on all day, do you even notice it is really there? Most likely no. Not until you read that line and thought about it. That is what proper training will accomplish. Find that key workout that shows you that you have what it takes to meet your goal. Every good plan has key workouts that face that demon. A good coach will put those in your plan and you don’t know it. It will just be a regular training day. These are important to your success. I will often tell my clients after the workout is completed that they hit the metrics necessary to meet their goal. We demon is slain. The athlete knows they have what it takes to meet that demon and defeat it.

Other training tactics.

Do something slightly annoying. Like if you are standing on a train, or in line at a park with the ability to lean on something or sit down. Recognize this as an opportunity to practice mental toughness. You want to sit down, but you are going to keep yourself from doing it to prove you can to yourself. You are the one that must be convinced. Maybe it is waking up at a weird time, or holding your groceries longer than you would like. You will notice that this mental aspect borders on discipline as well. Guess what the next topic is?

Do a plank. Yes, simple and has to do with strength and ability, but there is a mental game. Push one extra second each time. It doesn’t take up much time or space and can be done anywhere. The key to this is to find a mantra that helps you extend that time. These are simple seconds but you have to talk yourself into them. This is a fun little exercise that you determine how to fight.

Find a mantra. Quiet the mind and insert the mantra. Use positive words like “I will succeed,” vs “I will not fail.” The internal dialogue will pick out “not” and “fail” because that is your demon. Change the direction of the internal discussion to positive thinking. Positive is everything.

Remember, you have to train your mind as you train your muscles. They have to face adversity in order to defeat adversity. Sometimes it is a simple moment of clarity followed by a larger moment of positivity. Remember, YOU CAN DO THIS!