Lessons from Jefferson Airplane, Morpheus, & Ultra-Endurance Sporting Elites
"After this, there is no turning back.
You take the blue pill and the story ends; you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill; you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
Morpheus from the Matrix
A few months ago, I cued up Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit while driving back from class. For some reason, in that moment, the lyrics stood out. Throughout the remainder of that week, I probably cranked that tune around 50 times. It reminded me of those moments during an ultra when the bizarre becomes the norm. Below is my attempt at making sense of what it’s like dropping into the rabbit hole. Maybe, you might interpret it the same way. Maybe you won’t. At any rate, it’s worth giving the song a listen.
One Pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all (Jefferson Airplane).
Prior to a performance, there are options. Options in the form of choices; choices that relate to how you might respond to a plethora of variables. Much like Neo's reference in The Matrix, these choices can often determine one's path: 1. Embrace the space of the unknown or 2. Play it safe and let fear run its course,
I confess that one's initial decision isn't the ultimate determinant of performance, but it sets the tone. I'm suggesting the importance of "dropping into the rabbit hole" as a way to “rise to the occasion”. The implication here is that performance is a direct reflection of preceding actions, thoughts, and behaviors.
"Dropping into the rabbit hole" also implies going all-in. 100% commitment (aka full-send mode) minimizes options, which also means it minimizes worry. Consider this a positive. It allows one to lock-in, quiet the chatter, and sharpen focus. it's full-awareness, but complete unawareness at the same time. It's a complete disregard for what might happen and, instead a complete attentiveness to what is happening. It's taking the plunge, but remaining detached. The rabbit hole is a dichotomy of sorts, but the precise moment when preparation merges into performance.
If you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall…
What’s your goal? What are you chasing? A certain time? Somebody else? To get the most out of yourself? There is no doubt that your intentions will come undisguised during intense moments, both early on and late.
Rather than fall victim to the distractions or uncontrollables beyond your grasp, just keep moving forward.
When the men on chessboard tell you where to go
When things start to fall apart, remember: Who is in charge of your thoughts? (Not rhetorical). You are. If plan b turns to plan c and d… or the day seems to have gone awry, choice still exists. Choice means everything. It’s choice that can turn struggles into opportunities. It’s choice that enhances (rather than exacerbates) self-talk. It’s choice that determines attitude. If you choose to allow negativity to fester, it will grow. After that, it will literally transform into an energy-sucking mental mutant that will stop at nothing. Don't let that happen.
Recognize those thoughts.
Work with them.
When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead. And the white knight is talking backwards and the red queen’s off with her head.
After spending time on the edge, fatigue's effects intensify and do so in the form of noticeable discomfort. Fatigue comes in many different forms. In my own running experiences, I've had countless two-way conversations with inanimate objects. I've high-fived branches, cursed rocks, and pleaded with trees. No, I am not lying. Fatigue does strange things to the psyche. I've come to learn that these moments are when mere background noise comes to the forefront. They are worth acknowledging. As mental acuity decreases, it doesn’t mean performance should follow suit. In these moments, I've found myself clinging on to “I hope” or “I wish” instead of directly focusing on the task at hand. Right here. Right now. Keep moving forward.
Also, another mistake I've made when things get gritty is reverting to the numbers game. Rather than tune into the internal, I've used the how much do I have left? distraction as a coping strategy. Safe to say, it usually hinders more than it helps. I have never been able to think my way forward, but, on countless occasions, have been able to think my way backwards. By backwards, I mean complaining. That's okay if there's a serious injury or medical emergency.
A superior alternative might be a mental pause. Whether it be a deep breathe or a helpful thought, it's an opportunity to check-in with yourself. Settle down. Stay patient. Keep moving forward. Again, it's the great unknown. You never what might happen.
what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head
In the most adverse moments, it’s often difficult to conjure up anything positive. That totally makes sense. Everything hurts. Self-talk is unrelenting. Instead of shoving it aside, deal with it. Observe it.
One way many athletes cope is through using mantras, song lyrics, or quotes. One mantra that I cling to - Eat the wolves – helps me lock back in when a situation feels as though it is slipping beyond my grasp. This quote - a reference to Braveheart - was shared with me by an old roommate, Mr. Jon Goetz. Eat the wolves probably sounds stupid, but I could care less. It works for me. If Ace of Base is your go-to pump-up band, then own it. Just like musical or culinary preferences, the beauty of mantras (or quotes) is that they are 100% subjective, fully dependent on preference. What matters is what you tell yourself during the good and bad. When a situation gets raw and gritty, you've got to go with your gut. You've got to go internal. The rabbit hole is gnarly and loaded with uncertainty. It's where instinct trumps intellect. When you're in that space, moment, or whatever it may be, welcome it. This is unchartered territory where the boundaries between present and potential self are blurred. It's where our greatest learning takes place. The way to get there? Keep moving forward.
Onward and forward,
Tyler W. Baxley