Saturday, September 18, 2010

Leaps and bounds

For those of you who are bored with my incessant jabber about brain training, you may want to avoid reading my blog for a spell.  While I admit I haven't looked very hard, I have found very little honest and substantive reporting of other runners' trials with this sort of thing.  So, mostly for my own benefit, I plan to fill a lot of white space chronicling what I find as I work through this.  There's a good chance that I'll find nothing new, but I will have at least tried.

One thing that occurred to me today on an easy(ish) 11 mile run was that I can practice some of these brain training skills in all my workouts rather than just waiting for the big ones to test my mettle.  In fact, this is probably a better approach since it gives me regular practice and won't fuel the anxiety that already surrounds many of my hard workouts.  This occurred to me while I was doing some hill bounding in the middle of my workout.  I was almost finished with the first, 45-second repeat when my legs started burning and my mind started churning out the familiar, "Oh my God.  This is only the first rep.  My legs are burning.  How will I ever do the rest of the repeats let alone run all the way home?"

Still frame from video of Women's World Mountain Running Championship showing my coach grinding out the last 100m of the course (view video here). 
I started to jog down the hill readying my self for the next repeat when I thought of a video I viewed last week.  It was from the World Mountain Running Championships a few weeks back, and it shows the Americans finishing the race, up a steep and rocky hill.  My coach is in the video.  You can see the strain on every one of the runners' faces.  Their legs look wobbly, on the verge of collapse even, but they are determined as they push up that hill to the finish.  That visual made an impression on me, and I used it today.  I decided in the second rep to use this image and try to keep my mind in the present.  Instead of thinking about how much longer I had to push up the hill and how many more reps I had, I thought about climbing that mountain to the finish tape and really feeling the burn in my legs, not being afraid of it.  I immediately felt a change in attitude.  I was looking forward to the next rep because it was a chance to practice this new technique.

I was pretty blown away as I ran home thinking about this discovery.  After downloading my Garmin data when I got home, I discovered that each uphill bounding rep got faster as I went along too even though I wasn't focusing on speed.

I also received a workbook and 2 CDs in the mail today entitled, "The Fearless Athlete: a 14-day Plan for Unbeatable Trust".  I was attracted to this particular program not because it promised to teach brain training exercises and mantras, which I think are pretty much useless without a clear purpose.  It's geared toward self awareness, and I think that will be the key to my success.  Fourteen days is certainly not long enough to "cure me", but I hope to be exposed to some useful tools that will help me progress toward my goals.  Here are some excerpts from the introduction (The Fearless Athlete, Peak Performance Sports, 2008-9):
"…What you may not know or understand is that athletes with fear of failure are highly motivated individuals who want badly to succeed and reach their goals.  Perfectionists are incredibly motivated to improve and succeed.  But this very positive mindset for use in practice can actually hinder them and undermine perfectionists from reaching peak performance in sports….In this workbook, you will be asked to look honestly at yourself to discover the beliefs and attitudes that keep you stuck in a comfort zone (or a certain performance level) and hold you back from reaching your goals.  Throughout the next 14 days of this workbook, I will present many self-awareness exercises to help you pinpoint your own fears and attitudes that block your success..." 
You can see why this program attracted me.  I plan to start the 14-day plan today, probably not the best idea right before a big marathon based on the wisdom that you don't try new things before a big race.  But, I feel as though this can only help me.  I'll be the guinea pig here for those of you interested in this tool.  This one workbook and CD set costs about the same amount as a pair of running shoes.  Hopefully, a small price to pay for a while lot of learning.


  1. I think plenty of athletes (of all different skill levels) can benefit from this sort of brain training. I've been thinking a lot about it lately, too. I know I hold myself back, but I'm honestly not sure why. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your work on this program!

  2. Reading incessant jabber about brain training is good for my endurance.

    Seriously though, interested to see how you go. That was an amazing video. Your coach did well! Our local girl (bit of a superstar mountain runner, and 4:37? on the track for 1500) ran 58 minutes.