In distance running, like any other sport, our professional careers and anything else worthwhile in our lives, success in reaching ones goal, highly depends on dedication and ability to focus. And turning up of course.
Dedication is the most obvious attribute. Ultra marathon running requires consistency with hours of training, body nurturing and maintenance over a long period time. The impact on work-life balance, sleep, family, finances and general social life is not neglect able. It is quite a big ask. Without total dedication, it is easy to slip off the training and lifestyle regime and this normally results in poor performances, disappointments or, worst of all, injuries.
While the dedication is taken for granted, the element of constant focus, may be less obvious to those new to the sport and to external observers.
I am talking focus in terms of the full depth of field, not the laser pointer attention and concentration during specific sessions.
I am sure I am not the only one, whose mental switch is always ON.
My “A” race or challenge is at the forefront of my awareness for most of my waking hours.
I am constantly assessing how I feel physically, emotionally and mentally in respect to it. Am I stiff or sore from the last workout? How are my quads and feet? Do I feel strong and engaged? Has my breakfast left me feeling full and light? What are my energy level like today? Am I lethargic or ready for action? Was the effort in the session how I expected it to be? Harder or easier? Was I faster or slower than what I had in mind? What was the feeling when I went up the hill? Am I progressing or lacking? What am I fearful of? I am training enough? I could go on forever…
Unlike million of other transient thoughts coming into my mind throughout the day, these thoughts register and are hard to ignore. They are in focus.
I may be in the middle of a conversation and then my full attention can suddenly switch to the twitching of a muscle and a subtle voluntary effort to stretch it, or a reflection on my morning run.
So if we can't turn OFF the mental focus switch, what we do with that focus and what we focus on becomes extremely important because it shapes the reality we experience. And, in my opinion, we focus on what we believe.
I believe that I am in constant improvement and that everything I do during the day contributes and influences my chance to achieving my running goals.
So, simple things like standing up at my desk, correct my posture is a way to actively engage my gluten and build strength. Taking the stairs two at the time instead of the lift, helps me practice my (pathetic) stair climbing skills. Doing a few push ups in the shower, strengthen my core. Eating healthier food affects my general mood and energy, my training and sleeping. Carrying a positive attitude into the day, shapes the results of that day’s running session. Opening up to the advise and ideas of others, allow me to design my own strategies.
Very trivial things of course with very little physiological benefit. For me the value is the intention, conviction, meaning I attribute to them and acknowledging they are part of my training. So I am always in training.
Others may not give importance to theses little nuisances while I do. Everything else being equal, I believe this gives me an advantage.
Maybe I am being too serious about it all and I should chill out! : )
What I am trying to get to here is that there is much more going on behind the scenes, than what meets the eye.
I often say that the actual running session, is the reward for all the mental focus I spend on it.
What do you focus on?
Prior every important event in my life, I consciously step into my alter-ego who has superpowers.
Like all respectable superheroes, I take off my normal clothes, put on a cape and fly. Or run forever.
It’s not just about wearing the outfit of the superhero; It’s a full transformation. I think, talk, act like him. And I can do what he can do. This gives me an enormous physical & psychological power and freedom to conquer and fail.
After all, this alter ego is not really me; I am only partially responsible of his words and actions. And achievements if any. I am still in the driving seat but removed enough so that the strong limiting opinions and beliefs I hold about myself, do not to interfere with his magic.
I do that before important training sessions, races, speeches and business meetings.
This is nothing new. We used to do it as kids when playing fantasy characters, as teenagers to impress someone, we do it every day to conduct business.
The important keyword here is “consciously”; it’s not just part of the motions. It’s an intentional set of actions to become the person I need to be in that circumstance.
While the context changes depending on the situation, the drill is typically the same.
Taking running a race as the pertinent example, this would be:
This is my ritual and I give it a great importance. I found it very effective for my mental preparation and to narrow my focus.
Others have their own other rituals and habits, it is certainly not that uncommon. I see this all the time, in fellow runners carrying small tokens in their running packs, motivational quotes or tattoos on their bodies. I see it in the day to day work-life with people wearing their best suits and dresses. You portrait an image outwards to potential customers, colleagues, the world but also inwards.
I decide to step into my alter ego who is a phenomenal ultra runner who has trained hard and has no fear. This is extremely effective to get the best out of me during races, especially when my normal self is scared to fail. It helps me disassociate a little from whatever happens during the race, most notably the pain, the fears, the successes and failures. It doesn’t make it necessarily easier or less painful, but I know my second self, my alter ego, has all the potentials to pull it off.
What if everyone strived to be more like their best alter egos, every day, in all aspects of our lives?