Coach’s Word Mindfulness – 01.31.14

Hi all. I know it has been a while, but nothing like a plane flight to get some uninterrupted writing time.

Mindfulness: the skill of racing and training right here, right now.

In my prep for this upcoming 100 mile run, I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks, podcasts and the occasional music playlist. One article by Maria Gonzalez I listened to stuck with me. It talked of mindful leadership and how we can decrease stress by controlling not only our mind, but also the multiple circumstances that arise daily where we can use better judgment.

As a coach, I wondered how we can apply these management practices and observations to endurance training & racing – and how it can benefit all of us.

As many of you have heard me often say: a lot can go wrong on race day, so we want to focus on the things we CAN control vs. those that are out of our control. Especially given that our events are anywhere from 2-24 hours, that leaves a LOT of room for things to go wrong! Even in shorter events – a minor circumstance can quickly mean minutes!

Surely outstanding fitness helps us deal with the circumstances of race day, but training the skill of mindfulness will magnify that benefit of outstanding fitness.

Dealing with the stress of race day…

First off we want to focus simplifying the stress: as we go into the race, we want to decrease stress, not just manage it. This will help us be better prepared for the situations that WILL come up that are somewhat unexpected. I say somewhat since many of the situations that arise on race day are not unfamiliar – we just don’t prepare or want to realize they can happen to us!

Decreasing stress also means we can assess the situation and seeing what stress we can eliminate. Weather? Temperature? Course? Competitors? Nothing we can do to change those, so instead we focus on how better to deal with them: taking action.

Next we want a constant theme for the day: control the mind vs. letting it control you. When the mind controls us, emotions and judgment are in play. When we control the mind, we can start dealing with that stress, that circumstance. It’s about not wasting energy on how to change the circumstance, instead on how to deal with it, accept it. When something is going wrong in a race and you get upset/stressed (no water at an aid station, you dropped your food on the bike, powermeter/garmin not working, feeling flat watching competitors whiz by you) – you are in your head! You are judging that situation (while it may be correct!) vs. applying clarity, awareness of surroundings, and being right here, right now. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down with feelings/emotions of the circumstance; instead we want a state of being present – aware – conscious…Mindfulness!

Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned. It is training the mind to be secular. Training the mind on how it CAN deal with stress. Being in the moment, being present (right here – right now) ties into three interlocking components:

1) Concentration.
2) Clarity
3) Equanimity

• Concentration is a skill learned to stay in the moment, be present for as long as you wish.
• Clarity comes with that concentration: clarity of thought, good judgment, seeing things for what they are vs. our own judgment that clouds situations.
• Equanimity – this one I find most important since it allows us to truly control our stress and mindfulness: it means going with the flow. Asking yourself; “can I change this situation, circumstance”? If I can’t alter, therefore I won’t let myself be swept away by the moment since it alters my judgment. Instead I am taking action. Practice acceptance, not anxiety!

Mindfulness is the skill of being fully present and fully aware – not looking to change the circumstance (react) – instead being aware of what is…simply what is…balance.

As with any skill – there are ways to practice this skill of mindfulness. Some of you have heard me talk of a system check, a check in with our body during the race. Part of this means we take a deep breath and ready ourselves for the task ahead. In all my pre-race talks I mention that moment in T2 where you just want to sit for a moment – inhale, exhale and check in with yourself. To be right here, right now, to get yourself ready to concentrate on the run ahead, with clarity & acceptance. In my 100 miler this weekend I plan to do this every 20 miles (5×20 mile loops!) – a sort of mini meditation. The author of the article talks of the para-sympathic nervous system being activated, which has an immediate calming impact. I’d like to get better at it – maybe at each aid station during the Ironman bike? Every aid station on the run? The more we can be in the state of mindfulness for our event – the better! A psychological mechanism to create calmness? I’ll take it.

In order to be better prepared for race day (its called coaching right?), we all can use triggers that come up multiple times in our training days – but especially on long race simulation days. A trigger to do a check in with yourself, to find that place of clarity, concentration and being present in the moment. For me a good trigger has been when I eat. These are frequent enough moments for me to take a breath – do a systems check, remain focused on the task at hand for the training and why I am doing it (execution to the best of our abilities). 

Our mind gets agitated with too much noise. Instead, we can control our mind, moment by moment and with it decrease blood pressure, control our heart rate and work towards having our day.

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