As I crossed the first peak of the mountains my legs were like jelly. The wobble in my legs vibrated through my body. Then the cramps started. These were deep cramps right across my hamstrings and calves. I felt wasted, completed exhausted, spent. I was in pain. I was struggling.
Yet, I was smiling.
This was around 8 or 9 miles into the Brecon Beacon Ultra-Marathon last December – a 42 mile race across some very tough terrain. I knew at that point in the race why our Special Forces use the Brecon Beacons for training – the terrain is amazingly tough. I still had well over 30 miles to go.
I did what I had to do. I smiled with the ridiculousness of it all. I put one foot in front of the other. I kept momentum. I kept going. My wobbles stopped and my cramps eased. I continued making progress. My running became easier. I started to flow again. I really started to enjoy the race.
(You can read a little more about this in Adam Eason’s book ‘Hypnosis for Running’. I had the pleasure of writing the foreword for this book and based it on the Ultra-Marathon I describe above. Adam is another expert here on Talk Health Partnership.)
I completed the race in good shape, a broad smile across my face. Yet, if I had listened to the signals from my body I would have stopped, less than a quarter of the race completed. Back there my body was telling me to stop, give it up; it’s too hard, it’s not necessary. Why didn’t I listen to it?
I know that the signals from my body are received in my brain. They are ‘perceived’ there. I also know that perceptions are not reality. If my body really couldn’t do any more then it would stop. It wouldn’t work. The lack of energy would stop my muscles from firing. If I couldn’t do any more I literally wouldn’t be able to do any more. But I could. So I did.
When we look to sport, fitness or anything else to do with physical performance it is only our own minds that limit our results. Our minds put the mental blocks in place – the fears, the anxieties, the self-talk and the parts of our personality that let us down. It is rarely our bodies that let us down. Our bodies can do far more than we can ever dream of.
In the book ‘Iron War’ by Matt Fitzgerald he tells the story of the legendary battles between two great Ironman competitors – Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Along the way he describes lots of the science of performance.
Fitzgerald describes how physiologists used to (some still do) believe in the ‘catastrophe model’. Technically speaking, the catastrophe model is where “…fatigue is an involuntary drop in performance caused by the loss of homeostasis (or balance) somewhere in the body. For example, lactic acid builds up in the muscles and makes them too acidic to function properly. Or the muscles become depleted of glycogen (their primary, carbohydrate-based fuel), so there’s no longer enough energy available to sustain performance.” Under this model fatigue is associated with a ‘catastrophic’ functional breakdown in the muscles.
In ‘Iron War’ Fitzgerald describes the ground breaking experiments of Samuele Marcora that overturned the catastrophe model. It was shown quite clearly and in many circumstances that the mind limits the body long before the body can’t do any more. The difference between winning and losing in races is often how strong the athlete’s mind is to just, simply, keep going.
If you were me, legs wobbling all over the place on the mountain peak – would you have stopped?
I can almost hear your minds know, making excuses such as “well I could never run that far” and such like. How do you know if you haven’t tried? If you haven’t allowed yourself to give it a go? Worked with your body and not the limitations of your mind?
So how is your mind limiting what you can do? What will happen if you realise, now, that it is your mind that stops you, it is your mind that creates the blocks, your mind that limits you – and not your bodies? How much more can you achieve?
Think about being in the gym, or running, or even thinking about going training. How much more could you achieve if you just let your body do what it can do, instead of limiting it to what you think it can?
As I understand how the mind works just as much as the body, in my Personal Training sessions clients regularly achieve far more than they imagined they could. I read their body language during sessions, and just at the point where they are about to stop I redirect their self-talk to achieving and then they just keep going. I use pattern interrupts. I fill their minds to block out the self-talk. I attach a positive emotion to being the very best that they can be, not the persons that are limited by their own minds. I help them allow themselves to achieve.
Give this a go.
Imagine doing everything you need to do in order to be the best you can be. Completely imagine it. Imagine what you would think like, how you would move, how you would act. Imagine this completely. Continuously imagine it, and imagine it happening at all the times you need to perform in the future and experience yourself performing far better than you could possibly imagine. Imagine it happening automatically, so much so, that this is you now and there is nothing that you can do about it.
Go and achieve.
This is me coming down Pen Y Fan on the Ultra-Marathon. If you think it was easier doing it with huskies you are mistaken! The terrain did not allow them to pull me uphill, yet they could pull me downhill resulting in me having to brake on every decline putting massive stress on my legs. They made the race far harder! They loved it though, as you can see!