The voices in your head are your worst enemy and your saviour, especially when it comes to long-distance, endurance races. Whilst fitness will get you part of the way, what will give you the strength to continue even whilst everything is hurting, is that mental strength. It’s your determination, your grit, your focus and it’s what makes the difference between getting to the end of a race and giving up.
With marathons, obstacle course races, triathlons and Iron Man becoming more popular, more and more people are pushing their body and mind to their limits. But what is the trick to getting through a particularly tough race? Especially when it’s something you’ve not done before? Take some tips from the experts!
I spoke with several friends who are crazy enough to take on such endurance races (I call them crazy because once can be considered a mistake, rather like the time I ran the marathon, but to do it twice is definitely asking for punishment!) to find out how they spurred themselves on through the tough times. They all agree that building your fitness before your event is essential but your mental strength and attitude is what will drive you forward.
Here’s their mental resilience tips for endurance races
Rachel is the founder of Austen Advisory, specialising in people assessment and leadership development. She is an expert in spotting signs of employee burnout and recently developed AURA, a resilience assessment to help individuals and organisations understand whether they are under unhealthy levels of stress and point to practical actions to address the risk areas. She divides her time between HK and UK and enjoys yoga and has completed several long distance trail races, most recently the 9 Dragons, a 50km ultra marathon over 9 of Hong Kong’s steepest mountains (total elevation was 4000m, more than twice the height of Ben Nevis) which she completed in 10 hours 23 minutes and came 6th in her category (despite getting lost and running an extra 5km!)
- Chunk your race up into sections and focus on getting to that next checkpoint, mile point or landmark rather than constantly thinking about the end.
- When you feel pain or think you can’t go any further, take a deep breath and focus on one step at a time.
- Take time to appreciate the journey – look around you and enjoy the atmosphere.
- Don’t obsess over a time target or constantly count down the kilometres. If you’re going for a set time, keep an eye on it, but you know what they say about a watched clock…
- Focus on how you actually feel physically, not how you think you feel. A lot of times, the pain is actually less than we imagine.
It’s all those little steps which make the journey complete.
~ Chanda Kochar
- Trust in the training. Believe in the time and effort you have put in and understand the race is merely the end result of all that good stuff
- Remember why you do this. Whether it is love of the outdoors, for health, to spend time with friends, understand your motivation & drive and hold on to that
- Pain is temporary. You’ll have ups & downs, they won’t last, and the ability to put one foot in front of the other should not hurt. Slowing down helps everything.
- Smile and stay positive. When you run through aid stations make sure to thank volunteers, their positivity back to you will help immeasurably. Remember – you get to be outside running!
Fiona is a travel marketing manager in New Zealand who has always loved to run. She started out on the track then gradually increased her distance until she was running marathons. Running (and triathlon) has been a great excuse to travel the world. Her first marathon was New York where the support and atmosphere was simply insane and from there, she was properly hooked. After partaking in several Ironman, she’s now setting her sights on the trails – next up is the Ring of Fire in a team with friends in NZ, then in May to Aussie’s Blue Mountains for the Ultra Trail Australia 50km!
- If you can switch off your brain then you’d be able to run a whole heap longer and faster.
- You’ll have low points in your race when you’re too hot, too cold, things are hurting and you’ll tell yourself you can’t do it. You CAN do it. During times like these, I tell myself ‘just one more step’, or ‘one more mile’ and I keep chipping away at the distance.
- I like to dream of something good waiting for me at the finish line (it’s normally a beer, especially when it’s roasting hot!) – it definitely spurs me on.
- Tell yourself that even if you’re thinking of giving up, realistically it’s easier to get to the finish line as your bag is there waiting for you and so are your supporters. Logistically, it’s actually more challenging if you don’t make it!
- When I did my last marathon, I was constantly reminding myself of what Rob, my coach, would be telling me at this point – relax the shoulders, sip some water, take on fuel (usually a gel) – and this external ‘internal’ voice would be the pick me up I needed.
- Remind yourself during the race that this is what you’ve trained for. Visualise how good it’ll feel to cross that finish line and keep that with you.
Thinking of signing up to an Ironman? Read this first…