Ironman Australia, which is based in stunning Port Macquarie, was an interesting weekend observing human nature in action against a backdrop of what many would consider the edge of extreme endurance.
As a coach I learnt a lot more at this race from my experience of standing on course than I ever have before. I owe this to the insights my interest in psychology, and the understanding this study has given me. For the first time I concretely saw the difference between what was physical, and what was psychological. So a little summary is in order, hopefully this might help punters out there to have some clarity around that.
What is one of the key ingredients to a successful race? Without doubt the ability to hurt.
Contrary to popular belief, I would put it out there that psychological strength has very little to do with physical form, and everything to do with desire. The want, the bastard desire, the mongrel and the digger spirit are the backbones of the refusal to give in. I watched in pure fascination. The drama that unfolds at the front of the race is really no different from that which unfolds further down the field. Yes these dramas are occurring on a different level, but those levels are all relative. This was the first time I was really able to identify both mongrel and resignation in people’s faces.
For the athletes with the desire it was impossible to miss. They were fully absorbed by the process, they moved as one with what was happening, and it was easy to see that the fire was coming from inside, it was clearly something that was already in them. For the athletes who were resigned it was clear to see they were in judgement of themselves and what was happening to them. Angry, distracted, frustrated and in resistance.
The ability to hurt has nothing to do with physical talent. To suggest that it did would imply that some athletes hurt less than others, and that is far from the truth. Some athletes indeed hurt faster, but everyone hurts the same. It’s just that some judge the hurt more than others, whilst others refuse to listen to the mind’s voice and it’s stories. It is because of this refusal to listen that the mind backs out and becomes still, simply because it is receiving no attention. When the mind receives no attention it becomes dormant, and once the mind of an athlete is dormant, that athletes being gets absorbed into the process they are in. All the desire and the mongrel is fuel for the fire, and that athlete becomes a state of flow, a human bonfire. It’s no longer about thinking. It becomes an innate state of what needs to be done right now with the energy that the athlete is releasing.
If you are lost in thought and judgement that energy has no outlet, it has nowhere to flow, and so it becomes pure frustration. The athlete, through blind thinking, is blocking their own natural pathway to performance, and instead of becoming absorbed by the performance, they become more and more absorbed by the mind. A mind that is trying to desperately think it’s way out of this horrible experience It is having right now, and in the process getting further and further away from what they are truly capable of as an athlete.
Many athletes believe that the ability to hurt in a race will come from their ability to smash themselves in training. This is far from the truth. The world is full of great trainers/bad racers. The world is also full of average trainers/great racers. I know this as a coach and I’ve seen it hundreds of times over. The ability to hurt is the ability to turn off the noise, and to lose yourself in the process.
You can’t learn to hurt by having the perfect preparation. If you are judgemental and trying to think your way through things you will get the same result over and over. This is also about personal responsibility; you and only you are responsible for your race. So the ability to hurt yourself begins far before the start gun goes off. Take a moment to really look at your mindset in training and you will have a pretty clear picture of the mindset you will have on race day. If you fool yourself that all you need is the right preparation you will be in for a nasty shock.