Endurance racing is a test of the mind as much as the body. Roberta shares what many of us go through this time of year. Why do you keep coming back to endurance racing?
Ever since I helped to pace my friend Janey Bell in the Leadville 100 trail marathon I had been thinking I should blog about endurance. What drives us to endure? Then just the other day Diana Nyad had her successful 110 mile swim and the thought of endurance came to my mind again (along with the urge to get back in the pool). Then this past weekend I was thinking about how I have mentally gotten myself through 2 Ironman races and 2 LOTOJA rides and how did I possibly do that?
When Janey and I were running over Hope Pass, just past the 50 mile mark in her run, I was amazed. Here I was huffing and puffing, I started to get a blister on my toe, the circulation in my arms was being cut off from carrying two camelbacks (hers and mine) but I didn’t have it in me to complain. I knew I had to endure. She was going strong and I kept pushing her to run just a few more steps. We were close to the time cutoff and I did not want to be the reason she would have to stop running. I was at a loss as to what to say. She looked great, the other runners kind of looked homeless. She wasn’t seeing leprechauns or in a state of deep mental thought. Only she could motivate herself to keep going. I have had many times when I have played the role of the encourager and helped many of my athlete friends achieve their athletic goals. But it was truly their spirit and their mental strength that got them through.
Wikipedia defines endurance as the “ ability of an organism to exert itself and remain active for a long period of time, as well as its ability to resist, withstand, recover from, and have immunity to trauma, wounds or fatigue.” The fact that as athletes we have thoughts that can occupy us for a 54 hour swim, a 30 hour run, a 13 hour bike ride is amazing. But, as I experienced a few times this year, once your mind gets an inkling of a negative thought, it can spread like the Ebola virus and kill your spirit. You are suddenly not immune to defeat and it stings.
On my last race, I was thinking about the poem by A.E. Houseman ( ok how I remember this is all because of Miss Miles my 8th grade English teacher) “ To an Athlete Dying Young”. It is kind of morbid and it talks about an athlete who dies at the top of their game.
“ Eyes the shady night has shut./ Cannot see the record cut”. “ Now you will not swell the rout/ Of lads that work their honours out,/ Runners whom renown outran/ And the name died before the man.”
Is it better to go out at the top of your game? When you see your records being cut how can you endure anymore? These are thoughts of the burned out cyclist and one that cannot endure. How do you turn yourself around from this downward spiral? I think we have all been there before, saying we are going to quit.
Strangely, I find myself coming back for more. Why is this? Well I have given that some thought too. Distance helps (not doing more miles) but taking a break. Time off the bike to reconnect with things you haven’t gotten to. This is what I intend to do for the next few months and turn my sites from cycling to biathlon. What I found though is having your cheering crowd does make a difference. My husband, Paul, is great at that but so are my Naked peeps. They know me. They know it is not the end, rather a beginning. They send you an application to reapply for the team. It makes you think of the goals you achieved in the past year and the goals you want to set for the next. They are the ones that encourage me to endure. They are who make enduring fun and it is because of them that I will be back in the cycling saddle again!