One of my heroes, Ray Zahab, has often been quoted as saying that endurance running is 90% mental and the other 10% is all in your head.
When I first heard him say it while watching Running the Sahara, it sounded like one of those things high achieving people say to try and explain how they accomplish things but, you know, not something that would apply to a normal person like myself.
Yet, the more I run and the longer the distances get, the more I realize how true that statement is.
Any limits I put on myself are entirely stories made up in my mind-usually my body feels ready and capable long after my mind first started giving me a list of reasons not to keep going.
It’s amazing to me that the brain-the miraculous cluster of cells that can come up with iphones, music that makes me cry, and reeses peanut butter cups can also be the thing that put the most limitations on what I can do.
The minute a run starts getting boring or hot or hard, my monkey mind perks right up and starts chiming in. God it’s hot, it says, you know what would be awesome? Taco Bueno and a Dr. Pepper. You know how amazing an ice cold Dr. Pepper would taste right now? You should stop running and go get one.
And on and on. I used to judge this kind of inane (and constant) brain chatter as a flaw on my part-I just didn’t have what it took to achieve anything beyond the ordinary.
Now I’m beginning to believe that maybe it’s not that people who achieve amazing things have a better mind. Maybe it’s that they’ve learned how to work with it, harness it, trick it or focus that mind to get where they want to go.
This kind of stuff was often talked about in my yoga classes and training but you know, a yoga class is done after an hour. To get to the distances I want to get to, I’m going to have to push myself much further than an hour and it’s there that I think I’m beginning to learn what harnessing my mind is really all about.
So what’s working for me?
When I run, I listen to podcasts that I really enjoy like Ultra Runner Podcast or Smodcast, the podcast from the director of my generation, Kevin Smith (yeah, I went in two totally different directions there). Since I love listening to these things anyway, putting in my ear phones and knowing I’m going to have some uninterrupted time to listen to them is something that I look forward to.
And my mind has something to focus on other than it’s hot, this is hard, I’m bored, the trail is long, when are we done?
Some may say that my goal should be to focus my mind and still the chatter but truthfully, what I want to do is achieve the goals I’ve set out so I’m all about doing whatever works.
And believe it or not, there is some precedence for this. Mantra, chanting; these sorts of things were all meant to give the cracked out 2 year old part of your brain something to do so you could still yourself, focus and connect with something bigger than you.
Granted, the spiritual gurus that chanted the names of god for hours on end probably didn’t have laughing at Kevin Smith’s penis jokes in mind but maybe they’d shrug and know that using the tools at hand is the way to go.
What works for you? This topic fascinates me and I would love to learn more about how you achieve your goals. How do you use the power of your brain?