Mental and Emotional Pacing
I had a conversation with a training partner last year about mental toughness in which they suggested that we can always become tougher, and should seek to do so. I was reluctant to agree with that outlook, but it sure got me thinking. Like any athlete, I have experienced both sides of the mental barriers to performance; situations in which I gave 100% of what my body was capable of, and others in which I know in my heart that I did not. Sometimes I have experienced both of these states in the same race! So what was the difference?
One of the challenges specific to endurance sport is that of maintaining focus under fatigue. Provided that our bodies are trained and fueled appropriately, one could argue that maintaining focus is the primary limiter to endurance performance. When the duration of your key event is measured in hours (or days) of continuous forward motion, how you utilize and manage your mental and emotional energy becomes critical.
I have personally found this to be a real challenge, since I get excited quite easily in race environments, especially if I am doing well. When I dissect a past race performance and identify my mental errors, they almost always follow periods of excitement. I not only become distracted and lose my focus, but I waste my mental and emotional energy on the rush related to feeling good and doing well, leaving me with less for when things get difficult, (and they almost always do!)
What is the lesson here? Much like poor physical pacing can squander our fitness, poor mental/emotional pacing can squander our focus.
Can we all be tougher? Perhaps we can. However, we can also improve our performance by making the most of the mental and emotional energy that we have on race day.