They say hundreds are 90% mental. I’ve always thought that was 110% effort type math. Sure. I understand what you’re trying to say, but you’re undercutting your argument by being hyperbolic. Running ultras are extremely physical endeavors. Trying to undersell that I think is a mistake. That said, not having your head in the right place is a good way to DNF a race.
I mentioned in my Devil Dog race report that I struggled a little bit and I thought I would elaborate on that some. Granted my issues were rather mild compared to what I used to go through. Over the years, I’ve created 2 rules to help me finish hundreds. Both were created to fix the root cause of reasons why I’ve dropped in races.
Rule #1 – Don’t decide to drop between aid stations. Because once you make the decision to quit, there’s no way to walk that back. And the next aid station can probably fix or mitigate whatever is ailing you.
Rule #2 – Don’t think past the next aid station. You’ll likely get to a point in a race where the thought of running another 30 miles or walking for another 10 hours will seem impossible. But five miles to the next aid station? Totally doable.
Building on Rule #2, I’ve learned that I do best when I can just shut my brain off and move. Basically narrowing down my focus from running aid station to aid station to almost tree to tree. During loop 1 of DD100, I was able to do this when I was around other runners but once I started spending more time by myself I started to struggle a bit. It took me a couple miles to realize that the constant checking of my watch, which hadn’t been an issue for the first 4+ hours was starting to take me to a bad place. I switched my Garmin to just show me the time of day and was then back on track.
I then got derailed a bit during lap 4. I had slowed down and thoughts of “why do I put myself through this” started dancing through my head. I was pretty merciless with these thoughts. I tagged them as negative, unhelpful thoughts and pulled my focus back to how I felt which was pretty good. While I don’t meditate, I tried to use a similar strategy to just accept that the thought occurred and quickly set it aside.
I have to admit that both times that I mentally struggled during the race were very brief. More “struggled” than struggled. Maybe 10-20 minutes each time though it’s a little hard to tell as my perception of time fluctuates over the course of a race. Part of this is nutrition/hydration related. The physical is intricately related to the mental and if you’re low on calories this will naturally lead to mental lows. I was on point getting in a steady stream of calories throughout the race. With my energy levels solid, it was much easier for me to identify the negative thoughts for what they are and push them away. Goodness knows there have been races where I’ve carried my own little pity party with me from aid station to aid station. But with my experience, I think I’ve also gotten much better at noticing the negative thoughts. They can really be insidious things, burrowing their way into your subconscious, and dragging you lower and lower. By recognizing them earlier, I can stop them in their tracks before they can build up and stop me in my tracks.
Or at least, those are the mind games I play with myself.