mental toughness

Is it fair to say that mental toughness is like 80% of the game in running, tris, and other endurance sports? It all depends on how you look at it. There’s certainly an argument to be made about genetics and training and experience and blah blah blah yadda blah. But then think about how training requires you to show up, and be prepared, and follow a plan, and push through feeling tired or sore. And then to be calm for a race–it’s such a head game. Michael Phelps is good evidence of this:

Michael Phelps has mastered the psychology of speed

An excerpt: “Mental strength can be broken down into two key components, McCann said. The first is an unyielding desire for victory and superiority in competition regardless of the pressure, which is known as an offensive mental aptitude, he said.

This allows an athlete to use the energy surges or adrenaline produced from high-pressure situations to enhance concentration, strength and execution — rather than to produce nervousness, panic, muscle tightening or over-exertion.

The second component, McCann said, is a defensive skill, a resilience that allows an athlete to roll with unforeseen circumstances such as a bad lane assignment, a poor night’s sleep — or a head-to-head collision just before racetime.

Only some athletes, he said, possess one of the two. Very few, he said, display both.”

I might possess one of those. Earlier in my life I might have said it was the former, that offensive, competitive drive. While most who know me would certainly still describe me as competitive, I believe my mental toughness falls more into the category of the latter. It certain situations, I do have the ability to “roll with unforeseen circumstances.” I’m excellent in an emergency or crisis. When I thought I didn’t have a helmet before MIM, I was upset, but once I had one, it was over. I wasn’t rattled in the least during the race. I think I have Star to thank for that, at least in part. She wrote either in an email or a blog post that there is evidence that supports visualization for a good outcome in a race. I spent at least an hour visualizing my perfect race beforehand. Did I get it? Hell no. An illegal helmet, overwhelming swim, and mid-race stress fracture were certainly not what I visualized. But when something went amiss, it didn’t take me long to adjust and move right back to that mental picture of how things should be. Leads me to the conclusion that visualization is a key aspect of mental toughness.

Michael Phelps surviving that collision and then just kicking ass after being taunted is just amazing. We all want good race conditions, but I feel like he just says “fuck it” and steers them to his favor anyway. Wonder if he visualizes?

Slideshow of Michael Phelps, just for fun.

Straight from the horse’s mouth: “Champions sort of always know how to get back to where they once were.” That reminds me so much of my brother. When Jonathan won that crit race a couple months ago, I saw him in third coming for the finish, and I was certain he would take first. He has aggressive mental toughness in spades. And pardon the pun, but I thought it was so cool that Phelps played Spades every night at the Olympics to wind down. (If my triathlon career doesn’t work out, I’m going to become a competitive Bridge player.)

Anyway, just some food for thought, and a little inspiration. I’m down but I’m not out. Even though I’m physically injured, I can still meditate and I can still visualize. Gonna go work on that mental toughness muscle now.

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