“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”General George Patton
Let’s face it, endurance events are painful. When it catches athletes off guard, their performance falters. The solution is to get beyond the pain, and to maintain focus in the present with the goal in mind.
On race day Sam knew he had done everything possible to prepare for the century cycling event, a 100-mile bike race. It was a confidence booster. He relished the rush of adrenaline coursing through his body in anticipation of the start.
About halfway into the race during a steep uphill climb Sam hit his wall of pain. With years of cycling under his belt he is familiar with the pain. Sam has inconsistent success to get beyond the wall. On this particular ride he suffered from the pain, unable to regain focus.
Thoughts about deserving, capabilities and doubt begin to surface. His inner critic distracted his focus. As he became keenly aware of the discomfort, his pain increased. For a fleeting moment he considered falling with a fake injury to withdraw from the race. Anything to stop the discomfort. Sam, however, always continues forward determined to break through the pain.
Only three options were available to Sam once he slammed into his wall of pain. He could retreat, change his pace and drop back, or move forward pushing beyond the pain. The overbearing pain led to him drop back. Cyclists he would normally have beaten began passing him.
His inconsistent response to pain was interfering with his high performance goals. He knew there had to be a better way. Like most endurance athletes, Sam was persistent, curious about how to push his limits, face his fears, and learn from his mistakes. He possessed a daring spirit.
Sam’s initial reaction to pain automatically triggered specific thoughts. He developed this response over time. It didn’t just happen overnight.
Sam’s goal was to create a new response to the pain. Instead of suffering through it, he was ready to meet it head on. Once he determined his typical response, the next step was to detach from those thoughts, taking away their power.
The easiest approach was to use the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT, like acupuncture, works on the energy system within the body. The goal for Sam was to easily maintain high performance instead of getting into a struggle. EFT helped Sam to emotionally detach from the negativity in his story about pain. Once that was done he could develop a new response.
Sam successfully used EFT to detach, changing his perception about pain. Next Sam explored strategies he could easily use to remain focused. First off, his wall of pain was not an impassible brick wall anymore. Now he saw it as a paper thin wall which he could easily ride through.
A game plan was developed for pushing through his pain threshold. He knew from experience when it would be likely to occur. He created new positive thoughts to maintain focus, and identified several incremental goals to challenge himself along the course. Creating a strategy changed his perspective from reactive to active. Sam’s new response is to cycle through the paper wall, maintaining focus on his performance.
To shorten the learning curve, Sam began visualizing using his new response when the pain hit. First he would acknowledge the physiological response to pushing his body’s limit, and then challenge himself to achieve shorter goals along the course. Choosing a new response was liberating.
Becoming absorbed with thoughts about suffering is energy draining. Yes, the body sensations are very, very real. It is important to recognize that hitting a pain threshold does not have to be a cue for your inner critic to take charge. Minimize the critical thoughts telling you why you don’t deserve to race or what a poor decision you made thinking you could compete. Fear and doubt tense your body which affects performance. Instead of allowing the negativity to take control, recognize it is possible to break through this mindset.
Activity: Athletes know they are going to face pain. It is part of the challenge. An abundance of strategies exist for getting past your wall of pain. Acknowledging the pain without feeding into it is necessary as you strive to improve your performance. The pain, however, does not lessen. Work on improving your ability to work through it, making it less of a distraction.
When are you most likely to hit your wall of pain? Consider your thoughts when this occurs. Now list new thoughts you would rather have. Keep them simple to one or two word phrases. Next decide how you would like to challenge yourself along the course, choosing to maintain focus on performance instead of pain. When those tough moments hit having smaller mile markers along the course helps to provide incremental accomplishments along the way.