Is mental toughness inherited? Or is it developed from life experiences? I look at my favorite sport, actually, triathlon is more like a passion to me than a sport, that shows some awesome examples of mental toughness. What makes some people, who are sensational athlete, drop out of a race they are fully capable of finishing? What makes other athletes, who may not have much athletic talent to begin with, who might be cramping big time during a race, who may have crashed on the bike course, limp their bloody broken body to the finish line?
Sometimes during a race, even though I am in pain, my mind escapes my body and I am able to push. This only happens during a race for me, in training I can never reach this level. In the sprint tri I did on Saturday, I kept a 7:45 pace for the run to win my age group. It hurt to keep that pace, I wanted to slow down, but I stepped out of myself and ordered my legs to dig deeper and just get there (the finish line). I know this might not make a whole lot of sense, but this is how its been since I started racing last year.
A few weeks ago, the entire Ironman Louisville was all about mental toughness. A long 2.4 mile swim all alone, a 112 mile bike ride essentially alone since you can't draft, partner ride, or ride in packs. This race was my first time ever doing hills on the bike. During the bike ride I felt like I had 2 powers in my mind constantly fight each other. One power probably quit the race 30 times during that bike course, the other power said "no, shut up, we didn't come all this way to DNF, people are counting on you, you have to show others what is possible, so put your head down and get up these damn hills!" Obviously, that is what I listened to. The bike was the toughest part of my day, more so because of this mental battle that was constantly going on in my head the entire time. I read so many race reports where people go through this mental fight during the run portion of their ironman, for me the run was uneventful in this race, my mental battle was on the bike.
These are just my experiences from races. I have always been able to push through any pain to make it to the finish line as quickly as possible. This "death before DNF" attitude is what lead me to running injuries last year. I know of 2 races last year, both half marathons, where it probably would have been a better idea for me to DNF than finish, since running those races just made my injuries much worse. Both races I ran the entire 13.1 in excruciating pain, mental toughness, yes, stupid, yes again.
What causes someone like myself to run a race, one that isn't a world championship or anything important, in excruciating pain. I worry that because of this I might seriously hurt myself one day, or even cause permanent damage.
If you have read my first blog post about my history prior to weight loss surgery, I have had a lot of ups and downs in my life, life experiences build our mental toughness if we simply survive them. I know my tours in Iraq, my motorcycle accident, my escape from alcoholism, my exodus from obesity among other things doesn't help me in endurance races physically; but these events have made me tough and given me the mental toughness to keep moving forward when all I want to do it stop and give up my timing chip.
Mental toughness is a big factor in endurance sports. The world champions aren't just champions because they have figured out the physical aspect of their sport, but the mental aspect as well. I really want to improve my ironman time the second go around, in order to do that, I have to physically train harder. I also know that, between now and whenever that ironman is, I need to develop the mental toughness to push harder when the pain of fatigue hits me. I am planning on Ironman Florida in November 2013, gives me plenty of time to figure out more about the mental aspect of endurance sports.