Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mental Gymnastics & Mind Games

‘Train hard. Dream harder.’ ~ Kobe Bryant

It is less than 10 days to my next marathon, and already I have begun dreaming about race-related matters. I believe that this is my mind’s attempt to deal with my unconscious pre-race anxiety.

After seven years of training and races (more than 24 stand-alone marathons and those completed within Ironman triathlons), I have managed my pre-race jitters pretty well. I place hard training above most things, and this means under various prohibitive and inhibitive conditions. Having trained in the heat and rain, raced in the chill and windy, I think I am open to whatever shape the weather on race day takes. Be bulletproof, and take the hits as the day unfolds. It would not be easy at times however every step or metre you make and take prepares you for the next one.
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.’

If you experience pre-race jitters, you can reduce their impact on you. Instinctively and intuitively, your body is arming itself for a major physical challenge involving discomfort. Pain is a signal for the body to slow down or stop, however in endurance races like the Ironman triathlon or the marathon, it indicates that we are punishing and pushing our bodies too hard. Yet, we can coax our bodies to handle and manage the discomfort within its means.

List in your journal those things that you are anxious about. Categorise them into the headings of nutrition, attire, footwear, mental stress and physical pain. To each category and issue, assign a strategy or method to attend to this concern. For example, if it is an issue about cramps write down ‘Bring salt-tablets and energy gels, and take one packet of gel every 30 minutes and two salt-tabs per hour. Drink at least a cup of water at each station, and two if it is a very hot day. Use STOP CRAMP if cramps persist.’
If your concern is related to mental distress and the likelihood of walking too much, then you may write ‘Run at a manageable, familiar training pace. Use my Pace Chart. If experiencing fatigue, slow down my heart-rate by 5BPM. Take a RPE measure every 10 minutes, and monitor laboured breathing. Walk only if experiencing cramps, and then begin jogging once breathing stabilizes. I am not alone. We are in this together.’

John Cooke writes a piece on the mental preparation for his eighth Ironman, on 4 December in Busselton, Perth.

I hope that these mental strategies may help you. Design your own based on experience. There is no shame in walking. Imagine the best day you can have. Happy daydreaming!

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