“The best running advice I ever got was from a five-year-old.” – jmb
Jeff Wise, New York-based science writer and author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, shares five secrets of toughness he uncovered in his research of endurance athletes. Regardless what you think of ultramarathoners—extreme, crazy, or possibly your next adventure—marathoners should pay close attention, because the strategies are just as relative to running 26.2 miles.
In his article “An Ultramarathoner’s Five Secrets of Toughness” that appeared in Psychology Today in May 2010, Wise tells the story of a 39-year-old podiatrist with a wife and four children who was a casual runner and thought that guys who ran ultramarathons were insane. That was before he became one of them.
Wise researched whether a person can learn to become tough and makes a case that mental toughness is as crucial as physical toughness. The podiatrist-turned-ultramarthoner told Wise that for long races, really long races, such as 100 miles, “… 70 percent of it is mental.”
The techniques Wise highlights include:
- Modify your perspective: Instead of panicking in the face of crisis, see the situation from another point of view. Identify good things that come along with the bad.
- Lean on your friends: Wise says that deep down, humans are pack animals and having a friend by your side can make all the difference in the world.
- Laugh: The owner of a gym that trains elite mountaineers and soldiers preparing for special forces selections says, “When it comes to surviving hard situations, not taking yourself too seriously really seems to help.”
- Keep your head down: Rather than focus on the longer distance, focus on little pieces in front of you. I break down the marathon into pieces: the ten-mile mark, and then the halfway point; mile seventeen signifies only single digits remain; mile twenty means only a 10K remains, and mile twenty-three a mere 5K.
- Exercise: Most runners associate training with physical benefits, but there are powerful psychological benefits of exercise, as well. Numerous experiments have found that people who are physically fit recover more quickly from stress.