Craig started running less than 5 years ago. During the first few years he experienced incredible strides in his progression, both in distance and in speed. With progress came success, both with personal goals and on the podium. He hadn’t quite grown to an ‘elite’ level, but from a local perspective he was becoming known as a competitor and producing results worth noting. On only a few occasions did he experience lack-luster performance or outright failure. So going into 2013 his confidence was peaking and goals were set high.
Then, the compromises began.
In an early season 100 mile on Antelope Island, UT he was faced with difficult weather conditions; cold, windy, and slight rain flurries throughout the day and into the night. Going into the half way point and the end of the first lap (a two lap race) he was on target to achieve his personal goal of going sub-17 hours. But early into his 2nd lap he started experiencing diaphragm cramps and struggled to purge them. At the 100k mark he was still on his goal time and had the opportunity to dig deep, go further into the pain cave, and achieve an aggressive goal. Yet, thoughts of uncertainty of dealing with the cramps for the rest of the race, frustration with the weather, and a deepening anger with a slowing pace began to insert doubts into his head. Those doubts and frustrations led to a compromise – “sub-17 isn’t a big deal, sub-18 is still a huge PR and an awesome time”. Then – “just get a PR at 100 miles, who cares, no one will cares but you anyway”. And finally – “just finish, it’s fine”. A friend ran backwards on the course until he met up with Craig and ran him in the last two miles, forcing him to suck it up and still go sub-19 and a 20 minute 100 mile PR.
There was nothing in his race that should have ultimately stopped him from reaching his goal. It was his own brain and the willingness to compromise that allowed him to come up short.
A few months later he was racing again, this time the Speedgoat 50k, the toughest 50k race in the country. He had gone into the race better trained than ever for a steep mountain competition. He knew that the race was serving a brand of energy gel that didn’t work well with his stomach. He took along several of his own gels to offset the need to use as many provided by the race. And then the compromise – “spread out your own gels and periodically use those provided by the race and you’ll be fine”. He knew better. He should have prepared better. Instead, those gels wrecked his stomach by the half way point and he found himself nearly unable to eat all together. Because of that his pace slowed, his legs were heavy, and he found himself dealing with issues he normally would avoid with ease. A disappointing finish was starting to weigh on his race confidence.
Then, to cap his race season he went into the Wasatch 100 with an aggressive, but very reachable goal. He knew it would be hot near the midway point and prepared appropriately, except for one thing – an extra water bottle for the 14 mile stretch from miles 39 to 53. And it was during that time that the heat destroyed him, he ran out of water and stumbled into the mile 47 aid station extremely heat exhausted. After a 40 minute recovery he headed back out onto the course with his goal of sub-24 lost, but with a renewed energy and excitement to finish. However, in his compromising fashion he settled on “let’s just finish and have fun” instead of “push hard and try to see what time you can still put up”. The inevitable goal was achieved, he had a great time, but as with all of his featured races this year he was left with a slightly bitter after-taste for the mental effort he gave late in the race.
When running ultramarathons there are countless things that can go wrong and break down a runner. Our own minds shouldn’t be one of them. Compromising is one of the easiest ways to give into ourselves, to allow our goals to slip away, and ultimately walk away wanting more. Don’t be like Craig, but instead find the mental toughness that will drive you to reach your goals, no matter what.
When have you fallen into this pattern? How do you build mental toughness? Share your stories in the Comments section.