Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Mental Game

Train every day. Train because it makes you fitter, because it relieves stress, because it makes you happier and more productive. Train in the hope that you will be fast, and achieve whatever goals you have set for yourself. But if there is a secret to my success, other than my genetics, it is that as much as I love to win, I love to race even more. And I much as I love to race, I love to train even more. And if you approach your athletic career with this attitude, you will be successful by the metrics that truly matter, and likely successful on the results sheets as well.  Justin Freeman
Ah, yes, consistency.  Always a shortcoming of mine.  I really do like to train, to be outside pushing my body and building new muscles and strengthening my heart and lungs and breathing the air and seeing the sky, but it's so easy for things/life to get in the way, and then that day's opportunity to improve is gone.  Winter is so short, but so is summer; so is the available window to get in the big hours of training that will make a difference when that precious winter comes back again.


So, I work on mental toughness, on discipline rather than motivation, and two things happened that pushed my mental toughness a big step forward.  First, I really like my hip hop class and I really think it's a good thing for my stodgy slow body, but last week, it was turning into a major struggle to get there.  I had a particularly brutal day at work and at 6:30, I was still at my desk, exceedingly unhappy with a co-worker and feeling too frustrated to even try to make it to class.  But I said, well, I know it's too late to get there on time but I'll at least change into my workout clothes.  Then I got to my car and drove out of the parking garage, where I could turn one way to go home and another way to get to the freeway, and I said, well, I'll at least head toward the freeway.  Nightmare time: pouring rain, gridlocked traffic, grumpy grumpy grumpy, still seething about work.  It was way too late to get to class on time, but I thought, well, I'll at least stay in this mess and see how long it takes.  I finally got on the freeway and burst out of the traffic jam, and when I got to the exit, I could go one way to go home or the other way to go to class.  So I said, well, I'll at least head toward the class.  When I got to the studio, I thought, well, I'll at least see if there's a parking spot.  There wasn't, of course, but somehow by now I was on auto-pilot; I parked on a side street and went in to the class and found that I had only missed the warmup.  So I stayed and did the damn class and had so much fun, and drove home in a state of sweaty euphoria, the music still beating in my ears, and all the work stress just gone.  Lesson learned: stop thinking, just start, and then just go, one step at a time, until you're done.



My second breakthrough happened after I saw that Øystein Pettersen, he of the Norwegian ski team whom I follow on Instagram, had done a 15x3" roller ski interval workout, and I decided to try to do the same.  I have no business trying to do anything a Norwegian Olympian does, even at my slower weaker level, but sometimes it is good to set a goal on the far side of possible and see if you can get there.  So I headed to Discovery Park on the loveliest of sweet summer evenings and skied up the hill to my three-minute starting point.  I did the first two or three intervals as hard as I could, but then, lungs heaving and heart pounding, realized I would not be able to keep that up for 15 of them!  The grade of the hill was interval enough, without also killing myself to go as fast as I could.  So I scaled it back to an intensity that I thought I could maintain for the whole workout.  I won't lie; the tenth and eleventh intervals were the hardest and I thought about stopping there, but then I did one more, and once I had done twelve, I knew I could do three more.  The last couple intervals I moved to a higher, more open stretch of road because it was getting too dark in the trees, but I did it.  All fifteen of them.  Yup, me and Øystein.  I walked back to my car in the delicious-smelling evening with a big smile on my face and some tired tired legs.


Kent tells me this workout might have been a little excessive, not something to do every week, and he's right.  (And Martin asked me how many intervals I need to do to be able to forget about our insane president!)  But even more than the physical training: conquering the mental part of the workout and strengthening the lazy-ass part of my brain?  Invaluable.  I'm going to remember this workout at about the 40k mark of the American Birkie next year, and I'm going to smile, and I'm going to fly to the finish.

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