“People see the racing, but it is really just the 1%.
It’s the tip of the iceberg.
It’s everything below the water that nobody sees:
the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices that occur in training.
Not just that you make, but that those closest to you make as well.
There is incredible meaning and purpose in that training.
That allows me to stand on the starting line confident and
okay with what is going to happen.”
- Rob Krar (ultra-marathon runner)
Rob Krar took the ultramarathon running scene by storm in a close second-place finish at the 2013 Western States 100. Since, Krar gone on to win that iconic race two times (along with others) and has established himself as one of the sport’s best. Perhaps, the only thing to outmatch his loaded resume is his humility.
Through maintaining consistency, these elites continually evolve and sharpen their understanding of the mind-body connection. Below is a description of how the world’s best optimize preparation. The principles shared with me can be broken down into three E’s:
- Estimate the investment that you're willing to make
By estimating the time and training required, you are reducing the rigidness of having to follow a schedule. The word estimate seemed appropriate because it implies two principles:
A. Purposeful, yet flexible.
B. Consistency, not rigidity.
Miss one day? Had a curve ball thrown your way? No big deal. One day missed does not need to deter any major progress. Remember, preparation is 99%. Here's a fact: life will interfere with a training plan. You have no clue what a Tuesday morning in three weeks or three months will look like.
"When you get knocked off and lose momentum,
you just get back up and start again.
Rather than worry about what you didn’t do,
just think about getting back in.
Before you know it, you'll be cranking again."
- Dan Simonelli (open-water coach/swimmer)
This estimation also refers to understanding that you might not be 100% ready when it's go time. That's okay. In 2015, James "Iron Cowboy" Lawrence completed 50 Ironman distance triathlons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. Yes, you read that correctly. For support, Lawrence brought along his family and a crew. Long days, limited sleep, and incessant travel meant that this monstrous undertaking was multi-faceted. It was more than just the Ironman distances that needed to be covered. Again, these athletes are real people. The only way Lawrence was going to be able to be fully ready was to eventually take the plunge. There's no way Lawrence could have been able to prepare for what his body might be feeling on Day #30. If he kept pausing until he was 100% ready, Lawrence still might be waiting.
“You can plan your way to a failure. You’ll never have the perfect plan.
At some point in time you need to execute & be creative because nothing will go according to plan.
Ultimately, you’re going to end up changing things.
This means that the plan only needs to good enough.”
- James Lawrence
There is only so much you can control. That does not imply that winging it is a wise option, but, instead it means to trust your preparation and be okay with it. The results are simply a byproduct.
2. Emulate the Variables
By emulating the variables under which you'll be performing, you are rehearsing the feelings, thoughts, and emotions connected with those variables. This can be useful for any performance context. Giving a speech? Practice in front of the mirror for 5 minutes. Then rehearse it for your family or friends. Before you know it, you're ready. Another term to describe this is voluntary graduated exposure.
In the military, they incorporate stress inoculation. Extensive situational training, and physical fitness can be used as ways to elevate the stress threshold of the soldiers in-training. By gradually increasing the stressors experienced in training, it might help enhance performance during combat. Remember, it is incremental. Too much too soon, and you're riding the risk of either burnout or injury.
Lynne Cox implemented this strategy, which helped her conquer the unknown. In 1987, she swam 2 miles from the U.S. to the Soviet Union as a way to bridge together two age-old enemies. She received recognition from both Gorbachev & Reagan. In addition to that, Cox has completed swims all across the world, many of which have been completed in near-freezing cold waters (even sub-32 degrees F). Perhaps, what made these feats incomprehensible is that Cox completed them in just a swimsuit, cap, and goggles. When training for such frigid swims, Cox had to adapt. While her unique ability to adapt to cold water has been researched by scientists, Cox still feels and understands cold:
I would stand up to my waist in the the water and think
'O gosh, this is really cold.'
Then, the next day, I would swim for 20 minutes.
Then, the next day I would do 25.
It was about getting to that edge where you know you did it.
Then, come back tomorrow and do a little bit more.
- Lynne Cox
Another example of emulating the variables comes from Dr. Stephanie Howe-Violett. A successful veteran in ultramarathon running, Howe-Violett has a route she utilizes as a barometer for physical and mental readiness. One loop is 5 miles up and 5 down. She runs three them, totaling 30 miles. While the distance is certainly significant, it's the setup that matters. Her vehicle marks the end and the beginning of each loop. Why might this matter? It serves as a visual cue that represents her ticket home. No matter how negative her thoughts become or fatigued that she might feel, she keeps going. That is critical in an ultramarathon, when you have the willpower to call it a day at any given point throughout the race. While a 30-mile training run is a physical endeavor, her approach allows her to prepare for the adversities that will inevitably flare up late in a 100-mile race. She knows that she can keep going.
One thing I do is I practice being comfortable while being uncomfortable.
I do a 30-mile training run consisting of 3 loops.
At the beginning and end of each loop, I pass my car.
It’s so easy to stop.
I just kind of practice not wanting to go up another time.
- Dr. Stephanie Howe-Violett
We can all practice being comfortable while being uncomfortable. By emulating the environment under which you'll be performing, and doing so in an incremental manner, you are providing yourself the opportunity for success when the day arrives. Yes, an opportunity does not mean a guarantee, but guarantees don't make for great stories.
3. Evaluate the Process & Progress
The time, energy, and emotions attached to ultra-endurance sports makes them very intensive pursuits. For many endurance athletes, putting in the work is never usually the problem. Days turn into weeks and weeks into months. But how much time is spent actually evaluating of the time spent training?
Every single training session is a learning opportunity. By implementing a periodic checking-in with yourself, it can prevent a bad week from turning into a bad month. This also has the potential to assist you in moving forward, and, in turn, not allow those bad days to affect you in such a way that those around you become miserable. This can be done through journaling, feedback from friends/coaches, or simply nailing a specific workout. This will create room for any necessary adjustments that need to be made. Don’t underestimate the power of those adjustments either. If anything, documenting your progress might bring it back to the all-important question: What’s it all for?
I just put myself on my own chart of experience.
Is this the best that I could do today?
Is this better than I did last week?
What makes sport great is that anybody, at any level,
can have that feeling of self-proficiency,
of moving towards perfection within their capabilities
- Mark Allen
Mark Allen, the six-time winner of the Kona Ironman World Championships was self-coached and without the technological luxuries of the 21st century. Yes, that means he didn’t have Strava. He had to be very attuned to every single workout. Through that process, he was able to gauge his progress in relation to his goal. This allowed him to continually sharpen both his physiological muscles and his psychological muscles as well.
These three principles - Estimate, Emulate, & Evaluate - don’t guarantee success, but, if implemented consistently, can make the journey more satisfying. That journey is a long one, one that does not end at the finish line. Keep learning, growing, and enjoying the ride while you're at it.
Onward & Forward.