Sunday, February 13, 2011

Raise Your Expectations

No matter how high you jump, how fast you run or swim, how powerfully you row, you can do better. But sometimes your mind gets in the way. ~ Gina Kolata in I'm Not Really Running, I'm Not Really Running (NY Times 12/6/2007)
I stumbled across this article today, and I found it really interesting because I am fascinated by the mental aspect of endurance sports.  It covers a few things, one of them being the fact that the top athletes are also pros at dissociation, and that those athletes able to do that tend to perform better (so when their mind tells them to slow down, they don't).  It could be argued that really it isn't so much dissociation but maybe just choosing which part of the experience you are going to focus on - the discomfort that is making you want to slow down or the guy running in front of you with a yellow hat and the funny gait.

I guess you could even boil down to not setting any limits for yourself.

The mind is a funny thing. Last year on an 80 mile ride with one of my buddies, I had dead legs for the majority of the ride.  Honestly, I was dragging.  Then we came around the corner to a spectacular view that stayed with us, and I killed the last 15 hilly miles. Similarly, I remember painfully walking at mile 21 of a marathon, when I started talking to someone (shocker) and we took turns leading and focusing on each others back.   I ran strong the last few miles and sprinted across the finish line. Where the heck was that mojo back at mile 21 when I was pretty sure it would be less painful to just cut my legs off and crawl the last 4 miles?

One thing happened in both instances.  I forgot* I was hurting, and rode and ran stronger as a result. I have done this too many times to count in training and races - always toward the end of a swim, ride, run. 

There is a story in the Kolata article (here it is again) about a Division I champion pole vaulter that always cleared the pole by more than a foot - unless the pole moved up.  If it moved up even an inch, he would hit it every time.  One time, when he wasn't looking, his teammates moved the pole up 6 inches - and he cleared the pole by more than a foot.   

How well would you perform if someone moved the pole up on you and you didn't know it?  Right now, I am a back of middle packer - maybe I am embracing that a little too much, making the same mistake that pole vaulter was making.  I know I can do better, and be faster, but when it comes down to it, maybe I have been stopping myself from clearing that higher pole, "giving in to lowered expectations" as Kolata describes.

So next time you are on a training run or racing, try putting that pole up a bit, raise your expectations instead of giving in to lowered ones.  You might surprise yourself.

*I would like to add a caveat that I am not suggesting you space out on your bike or ignore an injury.  Please use common sense. 

This week:
Swim: 2850 yds
Bike: 94 miles
Run: 20 miles

27 comments:

Jess @ THIR said...

I think you could be right there... Most of my problem with my running is the fact that I think to much... Maybe I can find something else to focus on and not come last for a change ;)
I'm off to read that article...

KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) said...

I love reading stuff like this. Some athletes have the ability to tolerate the pain more than others and maybe the ability to ignore it plays into it also. Interesting topic with many theories. Things that make you go hmmmm?

Katie said...

That quote is awesome! I definitely let my mind slow me down sometimes. This was just what I needed to read in prep for my upcoming race :D

Chris K said...

Of course there's no right or wrong here. I love setting challenging goals for myself. Maybe you can pick one "A" race and shoot for that? See what happens.

BTW, I LOVE 1st Endurance. I do not race without using Optygen HP and EFS LS.

RockStarTri said...

My coach, from time to time, wants me to put black electrical tape over all of the power meters, GPSs, etc just to find out if I "think" that hard is really hard and if easy is really easy. Testing frequently gets me used knowing what I can do vs. what I think I can do and with endurance sports keeping within yourself (aka not blowing up) is key for me.

Nice post.

Jon said...

Great post Mandy! I think about this often and I know that I really have never encountered my inner demons. I have done some long workouts, but never anything over 6 hours. I think we are going to encounter some stuff leading up to Lake Placid and at Lake Placid itself that is going to tell us to stop. I think its going to be harder during training when we are alone out there.

Fortunately we all have each other to share our inner demonic experiences!

One Crazy Penguin said...

Well said. There's been quite a few times where I've had similar thoughts. Back when I played college ball it was a great trick. You need to get your head out of the game to get back in the game sometimes.

In short, the ability inside of us is astounding if we only allow it to emerge.

Kris said...

Awesome post. Today my head totally got the better of me, before I even stated my workout. *sigh* Thanks for the article. I linked to it in my blog today too. :)

Tri-James said...

This running think really is all mental. If you think you can you probably can.

Jennifer said...

Love this post, thanks! That's probably why many people run better to music (I do.) I can be dead tired, but if a rockin' song comes on I manage to find energy I didn't know I had. Good stuff.

Jeff - DangleTheCarrot said...

Great post dawg!

I've decided recently to turn my mind off - it has been great. I just look at my training plan and do what it says - no questions, no tweeks, just s/b/r. Problem is I am enjoying it so much that I sometimes forget to turn the mind back on. The other days I walked in circles for hours in my living room - true story (-:

Jamoosh said...

I don't know - exceeding "lowered expectations" is always fun...

Seriously, excellent point. I think it boils down to being as good as you want to be.

Christi said...

We are often our on worst enemy! Thanks for sharing the article!

JohnP said...

I'd rather fail at achieving a BHAG (Big Hairy A** Goal) than to 'look good' amongst goals of mediocracy.

People can go faster and longer than they think. U just gotta believe.
I lie to myself. I tell myself it doesn't hurt. I tell myself this is fun. I tell myself we're almost to the finish. My body is dumb, it usually listens.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Great post, I deal with depression, and what a toll it plays on you while you train or race. So many times, I would think that I want to quit, stop, go home, so forth, ALOT!! It sucks, and you are right, when you are with someone, it allows you to get your mind off things, I will admit, I am scared to death about Cedar Point, thats a long time alone to let the mind take over.

Matty O said...

Hmmm I guess that is why I never listen to anyone... even myself :)

100% mental.

Big Clyde said...

My mental game is horrible! Thanks for the illuminating post. I will keep it in mind today on my workout.

LB said...

this is a big part of training that i need to work on. i give into pain and distraction way to easily. i am in awe of your training mileage!!! way to go!!!

TreeMapper said...

Great post Mandy, Always the mind game... those times when I have been weak and stopped, I am haunted by my failures in my past - they force me to 'Go' because quiting is not an option.

TRI714 said...

If my thoughts would only get out of my head !!

Jamie said...

I love it. That pole vault story is fascinating. Makes me almost wish I became a sports psychologist.

Lesley @ racingitoff.com said...

Love this post!

Shannon said...

great post. the mind is so powerful! and definitely something i need to work on, i can push more than i do i'm sure... the key is also knowing when it's good and when you might get injured. or maybe i'm just paranoid :)

Laura said...

It's definitely part mental. Knowing that you can sustain the pain and it will STOP when you stop, but making sure you don't do that until the END! :)

I will be fighting in the opposite direction this weekend... that's hard to.

Anne-Marie said...

Thanks for sharing - really great article! It's amazing how the mental aspect plays into sports. I did high jump in high school and had a similar experience as the pole vaulter... Except I didn't have anyone move the bar to trick me!

Bryan Payne said...

M, great post, 100% agree. Oh, and if you're into substance abuse, drinking lots of beer before a run or ride you don't want to do changes your mind set. haha

B

Karen said...

so very true. The mind is a powerful thing. I can absolutely talk myself into (or out of) any task on any given day.