The Mind: the element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc. (Dictionary.com)
The Body: the physical structure and material substance of an animal or plant, living or dead. (Dictionary.com)
For an endurance athlete, the relationship between these two nouns is crucial. As I woke up this morning, feeling like a 70 year-old man due to my first three days of P90X, my mind started throwing darts on my plans to hit the roads in front of a winter storm bearing down on northeast Ohio. My abs, my shoulders, my chest, my hamstrings...oh, they all hurt. I was still feeling the Plyometric-X workout from Sunday night in my legs. I loved that workout and what it can mean for me and trail-running. It is such a great workout that targets the main workhorses of an endurance trail-runner. It was a good hurt. Regardless of how I felt, I still laced up, covered up as much skin as possible for the 20 degree run, and headed on out. My problem area, my left adductor, has been feeling pretty good lately, but man...I was like a creaky old man this morning. I hit the road and the rust definitely needed to be worked out. About a mile into the run, the hinges and pulleys had been oiled up and things were working well. Two miles in and the hamstrings had virtually released completely and all upper-body soreness had disappeared. By 3 or 4 miles, my stride had opened up and power had returned. With only three days into my P90X conditioning and focusing on whole body fitness and endurance, I already feel the benefits and the strength during the run.
But what about my mind getting in the way? It was reasoning and trying to make a decision for my body and will it to NOT run. Fortunately for me, I deciphered this trickery for what it was and ended up with a run that was strong and powerful and a perfect way to start off the day. As an ultra-runner, this mind-body connection is huge. It is, in my experience, the one X factor in the 50 to 100-miler that every athlete must confront head on. Reflecting back to my 1st attempt at the 100-mile distance, the 2008 Burning River 100, I wrestled with my mind and body from the time I twisted my ankle at Mile 38 until I dropped out at Mile 55. I had my cell phone (a mistake never to be made again) and called everyone looking for them to decide for me what to do. The pain just grew and grew and grew. No one decided for me to drop (and wisely so) but I finally faced reality for what it was and pulled the plug. Looking back, mental toughness that day got me to Mile 55 but stupidity would've gotten me one step further. I was definitely hurt and dropping was the right decision. Flash forward to June 2009 at the Kettle Moraine 100 Miler in southern Wisconsin. I trained all winter on a whole new level and mentally prepared by running very long training runs at predicted pace for my 100-miler, not 50K pace. I learned to discern between pain and soreness and how to address them both. Come race day, I was mentally a fortress to not be destroyed. Nothing...absolutely nothing would stop me from crossing that finish line outside of an ambulance. Unfortunately, 15 miles in and I felt like a brick wall hit me. It made absolutely no sense since I had trained with back-to-back 30 milers with no problem. I was very rested and at 15 miles, the life gets sapped out of me? Usually, I tell up and coming ultra-runners that the first really tough mental section usually hits me in the low 30s...now it's at 15 miles and I have 85 miles to go...ugh. I plowed ahead and in all honesty, I felt this way ALL THE WAY to around 60 miles. I had not planned for this and it was a true test of mind over body. My mind threw at me every reason in the world to pull the plug, get in my car, and head for Ohio. Identifying this trickster for what it is, is so absolutely critical to success in the ultra-marathon. Many ultra-runners have some kind of mantra they think or speak aloud to motivate them. This is very important. I had laminated a picture of my wife and two daughters but to no avail...I lost it in the first 20 miles somewhere on the trail. My mantra goes something like: "You're going great! Keep moving forward! You feel fine! Get your tail movin'!" Each person has to come up with what works but make sure you have something ready. You WILL call on this at some point and probably many more times than just once.
Flash forward to the Oil Creek 100 Miler last October, the single most difficult thing I've done to date. I learned more that weekend about mental fortitude than at any other time in my life. If you have been a reader of my blog for awhile, you know that I pulled my left adductor and iliopsoas muscle somewhere between my 2nd and 3rd 100-miler last fall and that injury presented itself at Mile 20 at Oil Creek. I'm not a fan of ibuprofen during events. It's a risky thing to do and is a highly debated topic in ultra-running circles. However, I got to the point that it was the only option at Oil Creek. As my muscular pain flared in my upper left leg, it was not soreness...it was plain-as-day PAIN. The "rational" human would call it right then and there. Hmmm....rational: intelligent, wise, judicious, sagacious, enlightened (from Dictionary.com). Also at Dictionary.com is the antonyms of rational: stupid, insane. Many outside the 100-mile ultra-running community openly use the antonym of rational when referring to these endeavors and that's OK. It's certainly a point-of-view definition, don't you think? Anyway, I continued on and stuck to a personal limit of 400mg of ibuprofen every 4 hours. Eventually as I approached nightfall and into the 60-70 mile range, the ibuprofen had a smaller and smaller effect on the pain. My pace had greatly slowed to a snail's pace with an occasional burst of running energy. My mind was still in control, though. I kept spinning my mantra through my mind and broke the course into bits and pieces and focused on that instead of the big picture. 5 miles to the next aid station is much easier to swallow than 25 miles until the finish.
If you've read my race report, you know what happened at Mile 92...I crumbled...I cried...I dropped my head onto my wife's shoulder as she completely surprised me as she stood in the center of the bike path. She had driven into town, two hours from home to see me in. I had built such a mental strength around my physical ailments that when breached with the flood of emotion of seeing her, I cracked. When I saw her, the sun had already risen on Day 2 of the event on Sunday morning and I had been up since 5am the day before. Telling her the story of what happened at Mile 20, she kept me moving enough to kick me back onto the course for the final 8 miles to the finish. Out on the last loop, a loop saved just for the 100 milers, hill after hill after hill is thrown at you. It seemed so much further than what it was. The mental strength held strong, though, and by the time I got within 2 miles of the finish, I hurt so bad that I couldn't even walk forward. I remember clear as day, turning and walking backwards on that asphalt towpath. Walking backwards felt refreshing and it was still forward movement to the finish line....that's ALL that mattered. The finish line. Finally seeing that finish in sight, I broke into a light jog, branded a smile, and crossed that finish line in 30 hours, 49 minutes. Yes, I WAS the happiest man on the planet.
People laugh and chuckle at me when I sometimes carry my finisher's buckle in my pocket with me. It's only a piece of metal, right? "Ooohhh, that's nice," they'll say. They really have no idea what that gold and silver buckle means...what it represents. The mind alone couldn't have earned that. The body would have quit at Mile 20. Together though, with the right Mind & Body Connection, anything can be accomplished.
Run strong and with passion out there!
Happy Trails, everyone!