Konbanwa! (Good evening in Japanese)
A quick over view of my training, then to the good stuff of why I am writing this post. Lately I have attended a Profession Military Education course to ensure I am trained enough for the next rank. At this course is mostly different running drills, ranging from long runs to formations to high intensity sprints. Courses in the military use running to induce stress upon the students, After a while anaerobic exercises wear down the body and mind faster than regular aerobic exercises. The anaerobic state is where humans grow physically and mentally, which I will talk about the mental portion later. I have also been fortunate enough to make it to pool on base to perfect my freestyle and breast stroke technique for the Ironman triathlons.
Now to my observations and opinions about endurance sports. To be fair I have gone back and forth between gym rat to endurance nerd, I have observed both sides of the spectrum. I will still continue strength training because I believe in an overall fitness approach. I get asked all the time “Why do you run/bike/swim/hike so far?” “Do you actually enjoy it?” then I get statements like “I could never do that” “Cardio sucks I hate it” “It hurts though” maybe a couple others along those lines. Well for those who ask I enjoy endurance activities and my reasoning I do it varies from personal goals, time to think, overall health, and so I can eat what I want (to a degree).
Working towards a personal goal keeps life interesting and the motivation flowing. Most marathon runners don’t start off at 26.2 miles but start small with 5k’s and work towards an overall goal. With each step in the ladder comes a greater dedication of time and effort. With increased distance/effort comes a greater risk of injury and burn out. In return for a greater personal satisfaction. The burnout and negative mentality is what can destroy someones personal goals in all sports but I have observed it most in endurance events.
Running is greatly psychological from beginning to end. (I will bring up running the most due to being the most common endurance activity) Mentally preparing yourself for something that you know will hurt takes a strong mindset, if you are running and you don’t hurt then you are not physically or mentally growing (don’t run through injuries though) I am talking about lungs burning, muscles on fire, almost to the point of lightheaded. This is how you will become fast and be able to go longer. But this is where endurance sports separate themselves from all others. You aren’t preparing for intense pain for a couple seconds to maybe a minute but instead working towards an event that could last for a half hour up to days and weeks. This is where that mental toughness comes in to say “yeah I am sore but I can do more, go faster, go further”.
The “suck” is not limited to you personally, it can also come from environmental factors. The heat, cold, wind, sun, rain, hills, scenery, and terrain conditions all play into the mentality of an endurance athlete. A 60 mile bike ride will be different every time you ride and where you ride. I remember in Yuma, Az I could crush it on the flat lands but as soon as I went to race in California I got destroyed on the hills even though the distance was the same. Personally I think windy bike rides are the worst, you are slow on areas you should be fast but unlike hills there is no downhill to recover on. I have dig deep into my mind and tell myself this wind sucks now but it will only make me more comfortable in different situations. This is why special operations, military, firefighters, and police officers deeply care more about how you perform during endurance activities than any other.
Endurance sports give you time to think, and when I say time to think I mean A LOT of time to think. This is where the whole endurance sport athlete boils down to and determines who can make it. Personally I have benefited my mental while out running or cycling, I have used good thought provoking techniques to solve my problems. Ultimately I have discovered who I am. While out there on the road it is easy to get caught into a negative thought process and question why you are doing this. Thoughts like “This sucks”, “I’m tired/hot/cold/hungry”, “Why do I do this?” are all far too common. Even boredom gets to people while training day after day, week after week. But from what I have read up on is boredom can actually be good! When bored we tend to think deeper, problem solve, and have a more creative mindset. In today’s times we are constantly distracted by cell phones, television, video games, and social media that we don’t allow for ourselves to get bored. I believe this is the reason why we as society have so much anxiety and depression built up, we are never truly able to think it through or solve our problems. When running/biking/swimming we are doing a very repetitive task that does not take much brain power at all (if training, actually competitions our mind needs to be there) so why not let your thoughts drift, solve some problems you are facing, or think of creative ways to plan for the future.
In closing I would like to say endurance sports offer you the chance to spend time outdoors. Natural sunlight and fresh oxygen are the two elements the body and mind crave that we don’t get enough of now days. Planning different routes and events breaks up the monotony of work, gym sessions, and life. You taking in more on a bicycle than you do in car, and you take in more during running than you do on a bicycle.