8 Tips For Mental Fortitude, Competing and Pushing Your Limits
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Last week I ran a race I'd never done before. It's called Hyrox and it was BRUTAL.
I knew what it was, I knew how to train for it, I had a goal.
The goal was simple - win my age group (40-44) and qualify for the World Championships.
Simple, unfortunately, is rarely easy. This was no exception.
Leading up to the race I got sick - something that rarely happens.
It was a rager of a cold and forced me to stop training for a full week - nothing, zero. This was two weeks out from the race. The week before I started to feel better, but it was coming and going. I didn't talk much about it because I always feel like the more you acknowledge sickness, the more real it becomes. Not always true - but mindset can go a long way. I hydrated, I ate right and I slept. I felt pretty good going in but I could still feel something lingering.
The race itself was a battle full of mistakes. Poor shoe selection, extra runs due to mental error and poor in-race fueling all played a part.
Here are the things that helped me finish the race, when I absolutely wanted to quit:
1. Train for the Pain
This is simple. It is absolutely not easy. If you're going to partake in any sport that requires long chunks of time at a high heart rate, you have to be able to endure the suffering and uncomfortable feeling that comes with it. You have to learn to disassociate the feeling in your body from your brain and continue, riding waves of adrenaline and the burning in your heart, lungs and muscles.
2. Recover and Sleep
The importance of how much you sleep and how you recover from training sessions cannot be overstated. More is better, period. Turn off the phone, turn off Netflix and fall in love with your pillow. 6 hours of sleep is not enough after training. You gotta sleep. If you haven't slept 9+ hours in a night recently, make a date for yourself and do it. You will be amazed.
3. Think About It
The power of envisioning yourself winning or finishing or just showing up can be extremely powerful. In the lead up I raised my hands over my head at the end of every workout. I repeated the phrase 'Age Group Champ' over and over in my head as I ran hills in Wisconsin in July (the race was in October). I did the entire race to the best of my abilities and trained the specific parts in different patterns. I read the rule book. I asked questions online and went to the venue the day before to look around and see the course. I ended up meeting two of the HYROX founders and learning even more (and meeting a couple of great guys).
4. Prepare For The Worst
When I was actively competing in CrossFit I was never the strongest, but I was able to hang in when things got bad. We're known as 'Grinders' - people that look into the black hole of physical strain and dive in. I would misload and unevenly load barbells, hide chalk, hangs rings slightly off kilter and hang bands on pull ups bars so they hit you in the face. Dumbbells would be one 50 and one 55# - just enough to f*** you up.
If things went right, it made it easier. If things went wrong, you'd been there before and didn't panic.
I had trained this race expecting to be at 162-165bpm heart rate for the first third. Five minutes in, after the first run and 200 meters into the Ski I was at 177bpm. This is a problem. My head cold and the adrenaline dump had done their work and there was no going back. Luckily I had done a fair amount of training at this rate and knew I could keep going, albeit very uncomfortably.
When I hit the 450 pound sled, I knew immediately that I had made a critical equipment error. My shoes were slipping and I couldn't push the sled correctly. I had to adjust techniques and settle for a few steps each start. It was a tremendous effort that shot my heart rate into the high 180s - less than a quarter of the way into the race. Fortunately I had been there before and knew that even though my opponents were widening their gap, I just had to focus on finishing the task at hand to the best of my ability.
The next event was a 340 pound sled pull. At the athlete briefing we had been told that chalk would be at this station. It was not.
Not having chalk made it almost impossible to do the hand-over-hand technique I had practiced in training and warm up and forced athletes to learn a step back technique, something I'd never done. My coaches Chad & Jeff and my wife helped me figure it out from the sidelines, with Chad even taking his shirt off and throwing it to me on the turf so I could dry my hands.
5. Don't F****** Give Up
After the sled work, I was in a hole. It would get worse. During the next run I lost focus and ran an extra 400 meters. I did 80 meters of Burpee Broad Jumps as quickly as possible (not very....ugh). The one minute gap I was trying to close to the leader in my division was now over 2 minutes. I was confused, exhausted and frustrated - and the race wasn't even half way over. I wanted to quit. I told myself, "If I don't start closing this gap, it's over." I wanted to walk off - but my family and friends and coaches were there. Quitting was not an option.
6. Work Your Strengths and Limit Your Weaknesses
I closed the gap considerably on the next run. The next station was a 1,000 meter row. I came in and my main competitor was only a minute ahead of me. I was able to row right next to him and see his splits. The gap didn't decrease, but it didn't increase.
The next run felt better and I caught up to him right before the 6th test - a 200 meter, 140 pound farmers carry. I knew this was a strength. I knew it was time to push even though all I wanted to do was stop. The opportunity came and I took it. It gave me a 55 second lead coming out of the carry - but I knew it wasn't done.
My main opponent had strong legs and I knew it - and he knew it. The last 2 events were about damage control. First, 100 meters of 66 pound lunges with a 5 minute penalty if you take the bag off of your shoulders. My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest and I was drooling and snotting like a maniac (gross, I know).
I hobbled to the exit onto the track and my lead had gone down to 36 seconds. "F**k!"
As soon as I hit the track, my calves started telling me to stop - they were about to cramp and I knew it. I hobbled as fast as I could - and I guess it was enough because the gap had widened to 1:15 going into the wall balls.
7. You Can Almost Always Do Another Rep
This was, for sure, the ugliest set of wall balls ever done by anybody, anywhere, ever.
20, hard pause, take a knee, wait... 15...oh no...this is never going to end....
Chad screaming, "HERE HE COMES!!!!" 42 ... oh man, this is bad.... 48...
Chad screaming, "HE'S DOING BIG SETS - HE'S ON 35!!!!"
53...damn it pick it up... 62.... 65 .... 72...
Ok come on - dig you p***y!!!
80 ....F****!!!!! ...82 - did I just do 2 wall balls? SHIT!
"COME ON GOOOOOO!!!!!!"
85..... 88.... 89 ....
oh no that was 1....take a knee....
91...93.... 95... do 5 come on do 5....
97.... shit guess not - can't feel my arms....
98... 99 and FINALLY
A 20 meter run to the finish - I had practiced this - it always felt bad, really bad - but never THIS bad...but it was DONE! Over. Finito.
I had done it - I had held him off.
I felt awful and as soon as I crossed the finish I collapsed. When I tried to get up my legs cramped horribly. I felt sick. I chugged 32 ounces of water and Refix and felt even worse. The room was spinning. My head hurt, my body hurt and my right calf was locked in a spasm. Chad and Tina were laughing at me.
Nothing had gone according to plan, I was 20 minutes slower than I should have been, but thanks to some great coaching and amazing support I had done what needed to get done.
8. Learn From Your Mistakes and Fix Them
Now - onto training for Berlin 2020 - so that never happens again!
Training is smarter (someone else is in charge) and there is less of it. I love to train myself into the ground - not always the most effective protocol. Now, there's more basics, less bells and whistles. I'm focused but not fixated. I'm just happy to have earned the invite and secured my spot in the World Championships.
Hopefully this recap and these 8 tips helps you achieve a goal of your own. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes...
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
― Theodore Roosevelt