Part of my more focused training over the course of the last month has been in dealing with distractions. When running ultra's, or even in hiking, distractions come from two areas. Obviously, these areas are more better known as "internal" and "external" distractions. In this post we're going to talk a little bit about what some common internal and external distractions might be, how they can effect your race and how you can train to deal with them before race day comes.
Our brains are capable of entertaining hundreds if not thousands of thoughts every single minute. However most if not almost all of them disappear into thin air while the ones you actually do think about are the ones which you grasp and focus on. This action has to do with the synapses and neurons in your brain communicating at trillions of different intersections. I don't want to get too much into the science here, if you want that I invite you to read Your Brain at Work By: David Brock. (Only interesting to those who are really into neuro-science. ;)
The key here is when we talk about our own thoughts. People ask us runners all the time, "What do you think about when you run 50 to 100 miles? Don't you get bored?" Let's face it, we think about a lot when we haven't zoned out and no, we don't get bored. When we do think about the internal distractions that effect us on the run, we're really talking about all the little things in our lives that muddy up our brains. Most thoughts, unfortunately, are of the negative variety especially when you're out on the trail for hours on end. This is not to say that we all have our positive happy thoughts as well. With that in mind, the point here is that the positive thoughts fuel us and the negative thoughts suck energy from our system and in effect we slow down and in some cases, can end our race.
Again, internal distractions are not just psychologically based, but also physiologically based. A twinge knee, a headache, a toothache, blisters on your feet, skin fold pain, on and on and on. Most of these distractions are things that can be dealt with or even prevented, but some we just can't get past. The best way to deal with the physiological distractions is to prevent them all together. There are countless tips and tricks out there on how to deal with or prevent almost every affliction known to ultra runners. From training properly to cutting your toenails short to using common sense. Either way, shit happens and sometimes you just can't avoid the inevitable. Ultra-Running hurts, it's a good hurt but it hurts none the less. So.. the phrase "suck it up butter cup" comes to mind in some cases as well.
When you're on the run for 10-36 hours, one of the most inevitable external distractions we as runners face is weather. I remember back a few years to the Massanutten 100 (2008) in Virginia. A severe thunderstorm warning was in effect for the race area yet we continued on. As I trudged uphill and soldiered towards a rocky ridge, the sky grew dark and ominous, in that moment I reminded myself of all the times I thought, "What would I do if a storm ever blew in during a race." Every time it's happened in my running career.. I've soldiered on.
The point here is that there are a variety of things in the world around us that affects us on the run. And our ability to deal with these things and move forward despite their attempts to distract us is key in being a successful adventurer. From barbed wire fences, to the weather to wild life encounters and yes.. other runners, we go through the gambit in races and the list of external distractors is as long as the list of internal distractions if not longer.
I have a motto that I've stated a few times in the last few weeks it seems. "If you don't do it in the game, don't do it in practice," that was a phrase my old soccer coach stated a few times. In ultra-running it's a little different. The veterans will tell the newer runners all the time to train in places that resembles, as close as possible, the course you're about to run. If you're about to run a mountain race, a fair amount of your training time should occur on mountainous terrain.
With this ideal in mind, I want to motivate you to train with internal and external noise as you continue to move towards your races. This training will help you cope on race day when everything gets thrown at you every step of the way. Run when your internal noise is negative and see how that affects you. Figure out how to turn the negatives into positives and deal with it. Figure out your training plan well in advance and follow it as closely as possible to prevent injury and in some cases, learn how to cope with a nagging problem when you've decided to run the race with it anyway.
Train on rainy days and sunny days. Train when the heat reaches 100. If a storm comes up and over a ridge, don't cower in a ditch or run home, run in it. Figure out how the external meshes with the internal and how you plan to push through it on race day.
Let's face it; often times when people fail to complete a race the provide us with a laundry list of the reasons why. Example: A friend once told me here friend was going for a PR in the 2009 Chicago Marathon. She told me he failed to reach his PR goal because of the heat. Funny... he had trained all summer in the sweltering mid-west heat for a race that took place late in the season.. he trained in the heat.. the hats NOT the reason he failed to PR.
Think about it... and act.