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Thread: Mental toughness

  1. #1
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    Mental toughness

    Mental toughness: something I don't possess. Even if I was as fit as Mo Farah, I wouldn't be winning medals, because I just don't have the tenacity to ignore the pain and give everything to beat the other guys.

    The organiser of the Peris Horseshoe / Half Peris didn't appear to have any wooden spoons to hand out at the prize giving last Saturday. Otherwise, he might have given me one for the slowest ever descent from Glyder Fawr to Pen-y-Pass in these races. OK, so I don't know that my time for this descent was an all-time record in the 30-year history of the race; but it was more than 5 minutes slower than anyone else on the day. There was nothing wrong physically: I was tired but not exhausted, and the twinges of cramp weren't severe enough to slow me down significantly. I hadn't even chosen a particularly bad route (although I am sure I could have done better in this aspect). It was simply that the constant mental effort of finding my way between crags and bogs, and having my running interrupted by lowering myself carefully down greasy rocks, seemed to have worn me down so that my mind was no longer in racing mode. I was still enjoying it, but in the way one enjoys a scenic, slow, long training run.

    One year in the 1980's, one of the outdoor activity magazines sent a photographer to the Kinder Downfall race. The picture they published (which sadly I have lost), was not of the winner; it was a sprint finish further down the field. One of the runners, who has just moved ahead, has his face screwed up in determination and/or pain. The other one, finally defeated, has a big smile on his face. That second one was me. I've lost, but who cares? I'm still having fun!

    All these musings came to me today during one of my very rare reps sessions, on a circuit round a rather rough field near my home. Now you may say that a bloke who goes out to do reps all on his own, with no other runners around to help with the motivation, is showing some mental toughness. Not really. The first two reps, completed in 2m04s, were somewhat painful. The remaining six were all between 2m07s and 2m10s. I didn't consciously decide to ease off the pace after the second one; it was an automatic, subconscious adjustment to keep the pain down.
    In his lifetime he suffered from unreality, as do so many Englishmen.
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  2. #2
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    I feel similar to you: My most recent test was a 10k in Pembrokeshire on holiday, 1k out to the coast path, 7k up and down etc on rough path, then 2k road. Guy went off the start like a rocket, became clear on the path it was not his strong point, so I overtook and opened up a gap. I then thought 'he's going to catch me when we get to the road', sure enough he did about 1/2k from the end.
    He was faster runner than me, but I believe I lost the race in my head way before I lost it, and that I could have kept it up on the road. I'd seen him go off like a rocket, decided he was faster than me, and resigned myself.
    i know this is a slightly different type of mental toughness than what you are on about, but I believe, in me, it is a manifestation of self-doubt. I'm re-reading 'The Chimp Paaradox' and a lot of the issues seem to resonate not just with my running, but also within work, and relationships. It is a bit 'pop' psychology, but is from a respected academic and clinician.
    Having not done any AL races for a while due a young family, I feel I've lost some of the 'toughness' built up several years ago when racing more and doing more stuff; however I do still draw on those moments when the chips are down in non-running situations.
    hope that makes sense.

  3. #3
    Master Travs's Avatar
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    I do think that mental toughness can be worked on and improved, just like physical ability, descending, etc... As Felltrumpet above suggests, he had built up toughness, but since lost a bit of it.

    Obviously some of it is in-built. I would suggest to take on the Peris races, especially if it's your longest race for ages, indicates quite a degree of mental toughness! But yes, I guess people like Joss Naylor and the like have something in-built (or did his upbringing and circumstances provide his "backbone" for when the going got tough?)

    Basically I think you've just got to keep getting up and getting out there, until it's second nature. Keep racing, build that toughness and belief in your ability by repetition.

    I am by no means making myself out as some kind of rock-hard lunatic. But through a couple of years of constantly doing tough races I feel like I've got a good base behind me to fall back on, and feel I can cope with bad patches. Certainly experiences like being lost, cold and wet up on the Pillar ridge at Wasdale, staggering around the final few miles at Buttermere, racked by cramp at Welsh 1000, and a huge 4 hour bad patch (shudder at the memory) on the 10 Peaks, all contribute to helping me get through races now.

    I can pretty much accept now that at some point between 20-45 minutes into any race, I'm going to be hit by a severe case of the jitters and doubt all my abilities to complete a race, let alone post a respectable performance. Now I just accept that it'll pass. When I first started it was very scary and certainly made me wonder if I was out of my depth getting into Fell racing.

    I wouldn't beat yourself up about a bad spell on the Peris race. You indicated in a previous thread that it was your longest race for many a year, so it's hardly surprising. I would suggest that building yourself up with more of the same races would lead to an improved outlook on the race for next year.

    As regards to training and reps, I think the physical and mental go hand in hand. You need to just get out and push your body hard, giving you the mental confidence to go out and work harder, which allows you to progress physically, and so on...

    Everyone's different, and I think the only thing that is really set in stone for everyone, is something mentioned in 'Feet In The Clouds".... that if you start to feel sorry for yourself, you've got shake those thoughts off quickly or you're scuppered.
    Last edited by Travs; 16-09-2017 at 08:00 AM.

  4. #4
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    Hmmm, looking back at it, I can see that my original post reads rather like a lament; it wasn't supposed to be, it was just a bit of introspection.

    In particular, I regard my recent Half Peris experience as entirely positive: nearly three hours of glorious fell-running, reminding me why I so love running in Snowdonia. I even managed to pace myself well, which has never been a strong point for me. And the story of how it all fell apart on the final descent is something I will be able to bore my grandchildren with, if I ever have any.

    I came into running through orienteering, and I must have built up some level of mental toughness in that very solitary sport. I remember in particular taking over 3 hours on a M17/18 course (winning time probably less than an hour) in only my 4th ever orienteering event, which was in Loch Ard Forest, a physically and technically difficult area in the Trossachs. But I still persisted with the sport.
    In his lifetime he suffered from unreality, as do so many Englishmen.
    Jorge Luis Borges

  5. #5
    Senior Member Daletownrunner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travs View Post

    I can pretty much accept now that at some point between 20-45 minutes into any race, I'm going to be hit by a severe case of the jitters and doubt all my abilities to complete a race, let alone post a respectable performance. Now I just accept that it'll pass. When I first started it was very scary and certainly made me wonder if I was out of my depth getting into Fell racing.
    The three mile demon , it generally tends to whisper 'oooh this is hard, you need to slow down, even better why don't you stop' mine generally lasts about a mile then it's gone...

    Personally I've found that I've become tougher mentally as I've got older, I was a fairly reasonable Road Cyclist in my teens/ mid 20's but now see in hindsight that I lacked mental toughness. Oh to have my 20 year old legs with my nearly 50 year old tenacity, I'd win Le Tour definitely a case of youth is wasted on the young.

  6. #6
    Senior Member CalFerguson's Avatar
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    I had the "20-45 mins jitters" on Scafell yesterday, happens to me nearly every race..."I'm sweating a lot here, have I gone out too fast?", "this feels like hard work, do I need to warm up longer?" etc etc.

    A hard balance I think, where as on races like Borrowdale I just went out at a comfortable pace and then finished it and felt pretty good. Maybe I'm just rubbish at judging the pace on short races and I'm yet to mentally work those ones out?!
    http://calferguson.blogspot.co.uk/

    Calvin Ferguson - Calder Valley FR

  7. #7
    I personally think mental toughness is a skill that can be learned - by everyone, including you. Believe you can and you're halfway there.

  8. #8
    Master noel's Avatar
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    To paraphrase Inov-8: "Mental toughness is just two words the stubborn use to describe stubbornness"
    No longer "resting"

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    Super Moderator Derby Tup's Avatar
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    Meaningless posts are two words meaningless posters use to describe their posts which lack meaning
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  10. #10
    Master noel's Avatar
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    I'm flattered that by comparison you're implying that some of my posts are not meaningless.
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