Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mental Toughness: Some Questions

During this morning's run, I was reflecting a bit on mental toughness as it pertains to running and racing.  I thought I'd post some of my questions here, to prompt further reflection and discussion.  I don't have any answers, but I'd love to hear the opinions of other runners, as well as other questions people might have on the topic.

Mental Toughness in Daily Training

  • Surely there is merit in making ourselves do hard things, when all we really want to do is lie on the couch and watch Game of Thrones.  But is it important to practice mental toughness on every run, in order to have it at key times (during races) when you need it?  Or is it more important, long-term, to skip or cut short a run when you're "not feeling it," to avoid burnout and keep your mental game fresh and ready for your next race?
Arya running the Kings Landing 100M (an old-school race with no chip timing or aid stations)
  • Do you have to keep proving to yourself that you have mental toughness?  Is it something you have to practice constantly?  Or once you've proved to yourself that you can push yourself beyond perceived limits, can you proceed with the confidence that you'll always have it, without having to practice it day in and day out?
Dependence of Mental Toughness on our Reason for Running
  • Is it possible to have the mental toughness required for ultrarunning without having a really good reason for being out there in the first place?  And what counts as a "really good reason"?  If your reason for suffering through an ultra is a selfless one, like running for those who can't, or offering up your suffering for an intention, does that give you greater mental fortitude than those who run for a more selfish reason, like personal pride?  Or can those self-centered reasons be just as powerful a driving force?  (Confession: my reasons are mostly self-centered.)
  • Does consciously exploring our personal reasons for competing in ultramarathons increase the strength of our mental toughness?  Or can unconscious, unexplored motivations be just as powerful?
  • If I enjoy racing, and I do it often, will I one day end up like Forrest Gump, with my passion for ultrarunning -- the lifeforce behind whatever mental toughness I have in races -- suddenly and inexplicably gone for good?  Or should I not worry about this, and continue sucking the marrow out of every race opportunity I have, as long as my passion outweighs the pain?

Thinking through these questions reminded me of the reason I started this blog, with the title "Running as Prayer."  My prayer for running has always been:

Let my every footstep be a prayer
of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Sometimes, it literally comes down to forcing myself to take one more footstep.  And then another.  And another.  Along with lots of prayer.  That has always gotten me to the finish line.  I guess prayer is part of my mental toughness equation, along with my pride and the feelings of positive reinforcement I've gotten from previous ultras.  What makes up your mental toughness equation?