Beating Those Mental Demons!

What are your thoughts on this statement?

“Endurance sports are 20% physical and 80% mental”

It’s almost;

“What came first…the chicken or the egg?”

The feedback from one of my athletes on a session last week prompted me to, once again, reflect on this topic. It is one I have juggled around in my mind for years and one that I believe there is an answer for. But first, the feedback.

It’s a fairly typical scenario for any endurance athlete. You wake up and you are fatigued. You have a big day at work ahead of you and it’s still pitch black outside. The excuses roll through your mind one after another, tempting you to take the easy way out. And it is SUPER easy to take the easy way out.

What I love about this feedback from the athlete is they have articulated this very struggle. We have all been there and we all know this mental demon well! And my favourite thing…they “TOOK CONTROL”. They didn’t let the mental demon get the better of them, and they owned their journey by getting up and making the session happen. Then low and behold, they were glad they did!

The question – are endurance sports 20% physical and 80% mental? Not sure yet – so lets start with how we can improve mentally to get to a place where we too can conquer this mental demon that would much rather sleep in than get out the door and chase our goals? Here’s a few tips;

1.     Remove the Obstacles;

If you are a morning person and complete most of your training in the morning, the obstacles between waking up and getting out the door can seem like the Great Wall of China. But if we remove as many of these obstacles as possible, we can help get ourselves out of bed.

a.     Clothing – have it laid out next to your bed including your watch, shoes and everything you need. If you don’t have to rustle around in the dark to get yourself ready, that is one less blocker between you and training. I have even gone so far as to sleep in my run clothes to remove this obstacle!

b.     Breakfast – prepare it the night before. This way, you know that you have already saved time and this won’t lead to shortening your session or not getting out at all

c.     Inspiration – A reminder of your goals on your alarm, a picture of your goals next to the bed, your WHY written somewhere you can see it when you wake up. This reminder can be the difference between sleeping in and getting it done

d.     Preparation – Is it going to be a massive work day? Do you have a big trip you are about to leave for? No excuses for not getting your session done – be prepared the night before with as much as possible and remove the blockers for the morning training

2.     Battle with the Mind;

This is easier said than done because it is very easy to be ‘mentally strong’ when things are going well. Think about the night before a training session…you are mentally keen and ready to get the next morning’s training done. BUT, you wake up, and the excuses start racing through your head. This is an internal battle that you MUST WIN! How? Remember your why; think about how good you will feel after the session; think about the terrible red you will see on your Training Peaks; think about last time you didn’t go and how terrible you felt. You have got to convince yourself and just start with that first step out of bed. I have even gone so far as to put my alarm on the other side of the room, so when it goes off, I have no choice but to get out of bed to turn it off…then the first step is taken!! I’m out of bed!

Think of this battle as race day preparation when you find yourself in that hole. Getting out the door is the hole…now dig up!! This will all make you mentally stronger for race day.

3.     Test Drive the Body

I thank Kristian Manietta from Endurance Specific, my previous coach, for this one. And it is a great bargaining chip to use against your brain when debating whether to get the session done or watch another episode of Stranger Things on Netflix. I find that the sessions athletes often miss are the hard ones (and often these are super important sessions). There is an element of fear and anxiety, as well as the knowing that it is going to hurt. This is particularly the case when you are legitimately fatigued from the build up from training…getting going is hard.

So…test drive the body. Tell yourself that you will just get out and do the warm up. It will be easy and relaxed and if I still feel average, I can pull the pin. The mind shifts and thinks “ok, that doesn’t sound so bad – let’s go”. You do the warm up and despite the fatigue, you are actually feeling ok. So you give the first rep of the main set a go. Still feels ok. So you do the second. Now we are getting somewhere! And before you know it, you are knee deep in the session and executing it as planned!

The trick? “Just test drive the body”. And then, who knows – you might just have a great session.

This all looks and sounds easy when we read it on paper, but we know deep down that it is bloody hard. But we make the choice to do these hard things, so make the choice to get out there and train. No excuses…make it happen.

So that question again – are endurance sports 20% physical and 80% mental? Firstly, lets not quantify it. That is a fairly impossible task to do. What I do believe, however, is that the mental element of endurance sport is JUST AS, if not MORE important than the physical side. Lets go back to what we’ve just read about the mental struggles in starting a training session. This mental battle is happening before any physical activity has even started. Then there is the mental focus during a session on technique, pace, effort, breathing and many other components of the movement or training session. Then things get tough, and if we are mentally weak, we are never going to be able to push ourselves to becoming physically strong. Granted, to get to an elite level there must be an element of natural ability – however, I have seen many naturally talented school aged athletes that never make it. Why? They don’t have or have not yet learnt the mental fortitude or the mindset to succeed.

So what are we all doing tomorrow morning?? Getting out of bed and chasing our goals of course!! :D



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