Over time in running, as in life, we all run into roadblocks that hinder our plans for whatever it is we aim to do. This holds true for the best ultra runners in the world, to middle of the pack runners’, to folks out to finish a race before the time limit. For me, it’s this last group of runners who are most inspiring and, in my opinion have the greatest amount of mental toughness. The ability to juggle work, family, and other life expectations in addition to training for races is a unique pursuit. To keep these things in balance is sometimes nothing short of a miracle. The following are a few items that have helped me over the course of pursuing running as my passion over the course of the last 15 years.
Side note – some of the following is based on my Christian beliefs, however, my thoughts are not meant to offend any person or group of people. I do however believe that spirituality is the foundation of a balanced life whether or not running is a part of it.
I made the choice, whether good times or bad, in training, or in life in general, to trust my life to a power greater than myself. I believe wholeheartedly that a power greater than myself–The Lord Jesus Christ–guides my life. On a daily basis I make this surrender of power over to Him. Whenever I begin to feel powerful and try to “run my own show,” I find my life becomes out of balance, and training along with everything else suffers. When I’m tuned into God’s will and His promise to prosper me, all facets of life work out. This is not to say there are not problems and issues that arise, but knowing all things are working out in God’s master plan brings comfort, and patience especially when things don’t happen on my timeline in a race or in life. I understand, accept this, and know with God everything will work out as it should, and with God anything is possible. These principles help me mentally more than anything.
On to the next portion of this post: Specifics on mental fortitude. First, and a faction beyond anyone’s control is genetic makeup. Some folks are blessed with a high degree of mental toughness and ability to suffer from birth. Next, and unfortunately, because I, like many runners, am not a patient person, one of most important conditions of mental toughness for ultra running is in fact, time. The more we race, train, repeat, we slowly begin to believe in our capabilities and ourselves more and more. We all want to be mentally tough and “gut it out” right now – it seems there’s no time to wait for time. However, what I’ve learned through countless hours of training and racing is that my body becomes more conditioned to be a better runner by getting out there and training, and my mind seems to follow closely behind. If you’re new to running or ultra running, take your time, and give yourself a break. Make the celebration and elation of finishing a race part of the process of training each day. Enjoy training, and know that you are indeed a lucky person just to be able to step out and run. Have Fun!
There a few other conditions that help build my mental fortitude: Take the long way home on training runs. Instead of opting to take a direct route back home, take the path less traveled. This often will happen at the end of what I think will be a run of a certain distance. Instead of going this distance, I will choose to run longer, allowing my body and mind to recognize the ability to keep on going.
I also like to purposely withhold hydration and nutrition to induce a bit of suffering, and to let my body and mind know that I can keep going without the luxury of aide. This tactic must be used with the highest degree of discretion. Know your limits, and don’t push to the point where you make yourself sick or completely impaired.
Especially in races, and as I mentioned in my previous post, there are very few things that will “force” a person to DNF (did not finish). Knowing and believing this in your heart is a very important virtue heading into a race – You Will Finish. Commit to finishing no matter what. At Western States in 2014, I stumbled into an aide station late in the race, and evidently lingered a bit too long, complained a bit too much and was approached by a man I surmise was in his mid 70’s. His words were simple but very impactful and lasting for me. “If the bone ain’t a show’n, keep on a going.”
Finally, Remember – running is running – there needs to be other aspects of life which we hold dear and contribute to our makeup and happiness as people. There will be times we DNF in our lives, and that is okay. As long as we give our very best effort each day, at the end of the day we should feel grateful and blessed we were able to do our best.
The cool thing about running is that often running can be the synergist bringing many facets of life together. Run with friends. Some of the best motivators of life and running are connecting with people we care about, helping them, and drawing strength from their experiences.
Next month I’ll post about my experiences with mindfulness in running.
Sam Skeels is a husband, father, Elementary School Principal in Michigan, and competitive ultrarunner. He enjoys running and racing all distances from 5k to 100 miles. He also has the fascination to try a 24 hour run in the future. He is gratefully supported in his endeavors by Greenlayer, Fitsok, and Newton Running. Connect with Sam at: lifeskeels.blogspot.com or firstname.lastname@example.org