Read time: 5min.
By Coach Yan Busset
From Agony to Glory: Navigating the Mental Maze of Endurance Races
Ever felt that burning sensation in your legs during a run? Or the fatigue setting in after a long swim? It's tempting to give up, but pushing through can lead to some of the most rewarding experiences.
We've all faced that moment in sports or physical activity where our body screams to give up, where every muscle feels like it's reached its limit. This burning sensation, the pounding heart, and the mental fog can make you question why you even started and can you even reach the finish. But what if I told you that there's a hidden switch inside you that can turn these moments of despair into triumphs? That there's a way not just to endure but to excel beyond what you thought was possible? Imagine being the person who, instead of giving up, pushes harder, stands taller, and finds a second breath every time. Imagine the pride in yourself, and the results that come from such perseverance. In this article, we'll dive into the power of endurance, resilience, and mindfulness – three key elements that can transform your sports journey and lead you to that bright, unstoppable future.
The Power of Endurance:
There are many ways to skin a cat, when I refer to endurance sports, it covers a wide spectrum from short interval durations to ultra races. In short, intense race, it's about delivering that massive punch, putting out explosive power in a brief period. Former Ironman and short-distance world champion Chris McCormack beautifully encapsulated this when he said that in short distances, the winner is the one who can deliver the bigger punch (link). In contrast, long-duration endurance events test a different kind of mindset. It's not about who can throw the biggest punch, but who can still be standing after taking many. Here, the challenge is to "embrace the suck." Let’s face it: racing a triathlon, a marathon, or a cycling race is not like a walk in the park; it’s brutally painful. In long distances, the question isn't if you'll face a challenging moment, but when. The difference you can make is how you deal with this pain. And, in my opinion, that’s one of the greatest things about it. We do these endurance races not because they are easy. Through this challenge, we will discover what we are really made of.
The good news is: These tough times during a long-distance event don't last. Initially, it might feel like the end of the race, like this hurdle will persist. But with experience, you'll learn that if you make peace with the struggle, regroup, slow down, hydrate, and refuel, the bad moment often passes after 5, 10, or 20 minutes, allowing you to push again.
Resilience in the Face of Challenges:
Every athlete faces challenges: injuries, bad conditions, or tough competitors. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from these setbacks, to not let them define your journey but to use them a milestone to a greater goal.
Mindfulness in Sports:
Being present in the moment, aware of your surroundings, and in tune with your body is crucial in any sports activity. Mindfulness helps improve concentration, reduce anxiety, and enhance performance. Here's how you can incorporate mindfulness into your training routine or race tool kit:
Picture yourself achieving your goal. Visualize every detail, from the environment to the way you feel. This not only boosts confidence, but it will also be your motto during the race to stay focused on your target even when facing hard times.
The Victory Walk: Find a quiet space and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to focus. Now, imagine your race day. See yourself waking up feeling energetic and ready. Visualize yourself going through your pre-race routine, feeling confident and calm. Picture the start of the race and see yourself swim, bike and run with ease and strength. Fast forward to each key moments of the race, and see yourself pushing through with determination. Yes it's hard, yes somethimes it sucks for real but you will see it coming and embrace it and keep going. Now, visualize crossing the finish line and the sense of achievement that floods you. Keep this image and the associated feelings. I also use visualisation to nail my transitions, I picture each step of it right before T1 or T2 and it’s as helped me to be methodic, being very fast without rushing it.
-Deep Breathing: When things go sideways, spending a few minutes focusing on your breathing will help you refocus. 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: This breathing pattern aims to reduce anxiety or it can also be used to enhance focus and relaxation before or during a race.
Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds.
Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds.
Exhale forcefully through the mouthfor 8 seconds.
Repeat the cycle up to 4 times.
This will calm your mind and prepare your body for the activity ahead. This can be linked to HRV training below.
-Heart Rate Variability Training: HRV training can help to reduce stress and anxiety (link)HRV training often involves exercises that synchronize the rate of breathing with heart rate, increasing the efficiency of physiological functions. A simple exercise is coherent breathing, which can improve HRV and bring your nervous system to a state of balance. You might use an HRV app to monitor your progress and to ensure that your breathing is at the correct pace for optimizing HRV.
Empirically, you can compare this to athletes describing their own ways to "get in the flow," a state of well-being and effortless feel, breathing techniques, HRV training, and visualization practice can help you find it.
-Important! Keep your race plan: Stay in control of your race plan in terms of pacing and fueling strategy. If you forget about your race plan because of a setback, you will pay it later into the race, so stay all the time in top of that.
Concluding Thoughts: The Mental Marathon of Endurance Racing
Pushing through discomfort and pain is a part of racing. It's the mental battle that often determines the outcome, not just physical capacities. Two athletes with the same physiological capacity might have way different outcomes based on their mental strength. The one who knows how to push the limit, who can handle pushing hard, often emerges victorious. Discomfort and pain are integral to racing, and often, the final result between two athletes with the same physiological capabilities will favor the one who knows how to push the limit and handle the pain effectively.
I am not here promoting the old school "No pain, No gain" attitude, which can be counterproductive in training if you ignore the signals of genuine overtraining. I am assuming you are smarter than that and that you have also read my previous article on how to stay consistent in training with, for example, the "20-minute rule" of self-assessment (Link). But it’s a fact: racing for performance, regardless of the level of the athlete is brutal, and knowing what's coming, being ready for it, and having the experience to navigate through this hell can make all the difference.
This reminds me a famous quote of Winston Churchill, a man who was known for his words of wisdom, he once said: "If you're going through hell, keep going..."
And remember, every challenge is an opportunity for growth. Embrace it, learn from it, and come out stronger!
Thank you for reading and see you next week!
Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:
1. NEW! Join our Weekend Winter Training Camp 2024 at the Vierumäki Sports Institute (Heinola, Finland) 09.-11.02.2024 (more info here)
2. If you are in the Helsinki area and looking for the best training group check here
3. If you are looking for an online coaching service check here.
4. If you are looking for support for your triathlon journey, I recommend you book a 30min 1on1 video consultation with me here.
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