Thursday, August 2, 2012

Doubt and Fear

When training for something you've never done before its easy to get overwhelmed.  People say all the time "you never know what you're capable of until you try it" and that can be inspiring.  At the same time, there are powerful emotions that keep us from attempting new and challenging things outside of comfort zones.  As a mostly general fitness type with a strength bias, it wasn't that far out of my grasp to run a 5K, do a Warrior Dash, or even compete in a weightlifting meet.  But, in the grand scheme of things, they aren't that hard.  I can jog a 5K any day of the week and it won't hurt me nor has it ever occurred to me to run it as fast as possible.  At a weightlifting meet, I'm in control of my attempts and if I don't feel like lifting a certain amount, I don't have to.  My approach has been to train as much as I can, and perform as well as I can on game day.

I did okay at the Highlander, but it wasn't without disasters.
But, lately that's not been the case.  When I registered for the Falls Fest Highlander last October, the events and weights were predetermined.  The six events required a combination of strength and skill; some requiring more strength and some requiring more skill.  Most importantly, if I couldn't lift or throw the pre-determined weight, I couldn't compete.  This made me focus my efforts much more on the competition and tailor my training to make sure I could at least make an attempt at each event.  For the first time, I felt pressured to hit certain goals in my training rather than just waiting to see where I was.  I began to keep a stricter training schedule and set goals that were out of my current reach.  I was actually nervous that I would fail to compete well or have the stamina to last the whole day.  Luckily, my hard work paid off and I did reasonably well.

I took a lesson from my son in training for the
Highland Games:  Just keep practicing.  
I had the same experience with the Highland Games only I needed a lot more skill to succeed at these.  I did nothing but lift and throw for several months and towards the end, I threw almost every day, just trying to eke out a few more improvements in technique and hope to get a good throw in on all the events.  It didn't matter how I felt on game day, the weights were set and there was no changing them.  Again, hard work paid off and I did all right.

But now, with the Tough Mudder, I am facing a pretty big challenge.  Not having ever been a runner, training the ability to do the mileage has been the toughest challenge of all.  I've worked up to running 7.5 miles, which is more than I've ever run in my life, but I have to almost double that in the next three months.  The strength challenges of the Mudder probably wouldn't be all that terrible in isolation, its mostly bodyweight strength, but the stamina it takes to repeatedly move your body up and over obstacles is staggering and so running will be playing a secondary role in that as well.

While doing a long trail run the other day, I was stumbling my way up a hill covered with rocks and roots focusing primarily on breathing evenly and stepping as carefully as possible.  I was marginally aware of the fatigue in my calves, the sense of being out of breath, and the sweat running in my eyes.  I tried to imagine climbing in and out of chest deep trenches filled with mud and all I could think was, "I'm too tired.  I can't do it."

Are the mountains in front of you an obstacle?
Or just part of the trail?
I'm at the point in training for this thing where doubt and fear come into play full force.  The Tough Mudder website says that the course is 11 miles with 25 obstacles.  It also says that it should take about 2.5 hours to complete.  Well, it currently takes me almost 2 hours to run 7.5 miles.  I realized this last Monday after looking at the time and the mileage of my last run.  I sat down on the curb next to my car and had to think about things long and hard.

Of course, Doubt and Fear were the first ones to rear their ugly heads.  "This is farther than you've ever gone and look at how beat up you are.  You can't even get in the car without hurting.  Your knees are a mess.  You can't run 11 miles much less run 11 miles with obstacles.  You only have 3 months left to train.  Just quit now.  It will be easier that way."

Doubt and fear are very convincing.  I struggled with them a lot when I was training horses and competing in equestrian competitions.  Because I was usually not afraid, I was always being given the horses who needed "gentling".  However, when a 1200 lb animal nonchalantly tries to kill you on a regular basis, you tend to get a little nervous.

I'm thinking no one was super excited about building this
fence, it simply had to be done.  
So, having always experienced chest pain and general discomfort while running, I never really tried to be a runner.  I didn't like it.  Made me feel weak and horrible.  I ran an annual 5K for a stretch of 5 years in my early 20's, but it wasn't until I had all three of my children that I got back to running.  And found I hated it as much as ever.  However, if you're training for a Warrior Dash, you have to run and so I got back to it, knowing full well that 3 miles is not that far and I can run 3 miles and I don't have to do it more than once or twice a year.

However, with this Tough Mudder training, we're way out beyond the boundaries of what I know I can do.  In order to complete this race and still have the strength and stamina to do the obstacles, I need to be able to run 15 miles at a reasonable pace and be able to mix some strength work in during my other runs.  And I just don't know if I can do it.

The good news is this:  Doubt and Fear have the loudest voices, but once they are done yammering, Logic takes over.  And Logic tells me this:

1.  There is nothing wrong with your body.
2.  Three months ago, you couldn't run 7.5 miles, next month you'll be running 10.
3.  You are strong and getting stronger.

and most importantly


4.  This is going to be hard.  Its supposed to be.  But, its not impossible.  You just need to work hard and that is what you do best.

Two hundred years ago, a man cut down trees, hand cut
them into boards, and built this house, all with just an axe.
Surely I can run 15 miles.  
I like Logic way better than Doubt and Fear, but I do think that Doubt and Fear have their place.  They force you to plan and find the true source of your motivation.  Look around you at the many people you know who are doing things that you don't think that you can do.  The truth is, unless it requires a great deal of coordination, knowledge of quantum physics, or superhuman strength, its probably not out of your reach.

Every day, people get up off the couch and decide for the first time to train for a marathon, hike the Appalachian Trail, or lose hundreds of pounds.  And they succeed.  Not because they are special and amazing in some genetically pre-determined way, but because people are awesome and we have far more potential than we're even slightly aware of.

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