Break Free From the Chains of Your Mental Prison

Annnnd happy Hump Day!

We’re back again, and this time, winter has returned. You know what they say, if you don’t like the seasonal weather in Reno, wait a few days!
This past weekend, my wife and I participated (suffered??) in the Escape From Prison Hill trail half marathon. And yes, it was as brutal as it sounds… toughest running race I’ve ever done (maybe harder than a marathon), and holy cow, all of those hills. If you’re super curious, the GPS files can be seen here. INSANITY. Don’t mind the extra .6 miles. Confusing course markings ;-)

I always enjoy the trail adventures that my wife and I have together. One month after our wedding, we did the the Flume Trail half marathon, an epic event with stunning scenery, and enough of a fun course for some sightseeing once the main suffering was done. Since we both love running and eating, it’s always wonderful that at the end of each of these races has been a delicious meal with our name on it :-)

Saturday began like any other race day. We grabbed our race drinks and gear, and took off for Carson City. My wife works there, but I wouldn’t say I’m exactly well-versed with the city, and sure enough, a monstrous hill soon loomed in front of us. Oh well, what’s a little challenge without some suffering thrown in for good measure? The venue was very low key, athletes were stretching and mentally preparing, which was nice. Everyone was there for their own reason, and showing off was not one of them…

The timer started and we were off, winding our way through a huge, sandy canyon, past a broken down truck, and up and away over Carson City. There was a smattering of terrain types – rocky, quick downhill patches, rollers, and an absolutely monstrous climb around mile 9/9.5 which was enough to make mountain goats weep. It finished with a quick descent back down through the rugged terrain, with an extra .5 of bonus mileage and across the finish. The weather was absolutely perfect that day, minus the part where sweat was dripping from my forehead trying to scale the beast of a hill. There were definitely some incredible views of the valley, and I recommend that everyone at least go hike this hill once, and it was the perfect day for a race. Weather, participants, and post-race burrito – nailed it.

My buddy, Luis “the Legs” Contreras, took first overall with a stellar performance, I was a few behind him, and not long after that my wife came sweepi
ng down the hill looking strong, although not thrilled with how the day unfolded for her. Everyone was hurting and yet at the same time found a way to enjoy the beauty of the day!

As I’ve reflected back on the race, I think that yes, I would consider doing that race again, even though I swore I wouldn’t, but what really
struck me was the mental tenacity with which my wife tackles these things. I find enjoyment from suffering through these types of runs, but I also prepare very differently than she does. I checked off many long runs over 11 miles, have been good about hitting my hills and trails, and have been actively racing. Lynnette, on the other hand, has been busy crushing it on a volleyball team, blasting through boot camp classes, cycling like a fiend, learning to swim, and squeezing in runs when she can, and yet, despite a few setbacks during the race (major leg cramping) she still finished it in relatively good spirits. I would’ve tossed in the towel…

I find it amazing that she always finds a way to get it done! She’s demolished two marathons, a few 13.1s, is busy learning the ropes for mountain biking, and countless other new, athletic experiences and always keeps on. In addition, she tolerates my crap, is a wonderful mother, and excels at both her job and in her relationships. Based on all of this,  I can only conclude that she’s got badass mental skills :-) And that takes me to the main point – the mental game.

Mental training and event preparation is no secret, especially in the endurance world. I am constantly at the transition areas of my races, imagining what it will look, sound, and feel like as I’m coming out of the water, how I’ll put on my gear, and what kinds of split-second decisions I will make as I’m getting ready for the next part of the race. While I’m out suffering on a trail, I may think about my running form or focus on my breathing, dwelling on the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and vessels carrying blood and oxygen throughout my body. I think about races three months from now, and those that were three years ago. I think about how I’m going to rest for the week, what kind of food I will eat and prepare, what new types of gear I should research and plan on upgrading, and especially how I maintain everything – my equipment, my body, my relationships, and my soul.

Visualization is the key to so many pieces of life, but often I find myself limited by my assumptions, negative experiences, or just fear of the unknown. Carrying those chains is exhausting, and squelches your potential for escaping free of those burdens and experiencing massive breakthroughs, athletic or otherwise. Yes, it’s hard to branch out and give it your all, but that’s what training (p.s. training and working out are NOT the same) preps the mind for. Each little training session is practice for the real deal, which is why having a purpose for each session is just as critical as completing the session.

I’ve mentioned it before, but my aspiration for the 2017 race season is “in it to win it; one more minute!” Let’s be crystal clear – I don’t actually think I’m going to be the overall winner in all of my races; however, you can’t convince me that that isn’t a goal worth pursuing, nor can you convince me that tricking my body into thinking that’s my goal is a bad thing. I’m in touch with what I’m capable of and where my training has brought me, and that is an excellent foundation for visualizing where I want to end up… seemed to work just fine at ICE Breaker… we will see how this weekend goes. I’m out for a vengeance on a three year old 13.1 time.

Wrapping up – my wife knows how to crush it, and I’m slowly realizing that we both just know how to gut out the hard stuff. Looking forward to many more races with her :-) Visualize where you want to be in life, and you may be surprised how it comes about, just make sure it is accompanied by a solid work ethic.

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Picture credit 1. Picture credit 2.

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