Ultra mindset number 4 is all about me. Well, it’s all about you too. Mindset number 4 is, “Have an ego and use it – until it’s time to put it away.” Having an ego can be a great tool in your arsenal if it is utilized in the right way. The power of positive thinking can go an extremely long way in helping you reach success, but it is important to strike a balance between confidence and overconfidence.
It is oftentimes said that running is 10% physical and 90% mental. While I’m not sure I believe this is true 100% of the time, I certainly know it to be true some of the time. I have at times found myself towards the end of longer training runs or races thinking that I should cut it short. Sure enough, I’m not in any pain, just tired and my body is trying to force me to rest. Well, by simply telling myself to suck it up and keep putting one foot in front of the other, I am usually able to keep moving forward and achieve my goals I set out to reach. The mental lows certainly can be daunting, but you must believe in yourself at all times if you wish to be successful. That ego must remain strong and unwavering in order to reach the end. You must tell yourself from the very beginning that you can do this.
There is a second part to this mindset though. Having an ego and being confident is great, but there do come times when it is time to tuck that ego away and humble yourself. My first 50 mile attempt is a great example. Everything was going great through 13 miles. After a particularly large climb, I crested the hill and immediately caught a massive cramp in my calf. “No problem,” I thought. I’ll get through this. I drank more fluids, I took more electrolyte pills, I even sat in the middle of the trail at one point and tried to massage the cramp out. Nothing worked. Five miles later, I hobbled into the aid station and took a seat. Abigail was helping me try to alleviate the pain in every way she knew how. I took a few minutes and the pain seemed to subside. I took off out of the aid station and the cramp came back seemingly twice as strong as before. I was determined that I would get through this though. I had an ego and said to myself, “I can do this! I’ve put the training in. I will finish this thing.” Well, what started out as a slight hobble with every other stride for the first five miles, devolved into a slow painful limp for the next four miles. I was going so slow that Abigail took to running into the woods to come look for me as I was approaching the next aid station. With cutoff times looming overhead and no visible signs of improvement, I stared and her with tears in my eyes and shook my head. No words needed to be exchanged. We both knew that I was dropping from the race. It was hard for me to stomach considering how much time and effort I put into my training, but it was the right thing to do. Short of a miracle occurring I was going to get pulled from the race anyway three miles later at the half-way point due to missing the cutoff time. It didn’t make any sense for me to try to grind it out. That certainly wasn’t going to do my body any favors. No, it was better for me to swallow my pride and learn from this moment. Determined to prove that I could run the 50 mile distance, I took to running a self-supported route with a friend a few weeks later. This route lacked the hills and elevation which I ultimately think were the downfall of my first attempt. My ego was sitting high and I knew I could cover the ground. I’m happy to say that, with my friend by my side (and my wife checking on us at our strategically place Subaru/aid station) we were able to run 50 self-supported miles. The ego was strong that day!
This mindset is one of the more difficult for me to implement in my life for multiple reasons. My wife would tell you I tend to focus on the negative a lot of times. I would begrudgingly have to agree with her. I’ve been trying to get better about that lately though! However, when I do find myself in a state of mental strength, I oftentimes become overly prideful and don’t know when to call it quits. I have a lingering ankle problem that popped up when I was training for my first ultra. To this day, it still gives me issues and causes me pain at times, usually in my long runs. My wife begs me to “not be a hero” and stop if I’m in pain. I usually respond through gritted teeth with something like, “I’M FINE! I CAN DO THIS.” Just this past weekend I was scheduled to run 22 miles and at 13, my ankle was screaming at me. It was very difficult for me to tell myself that I needed to quit at 13 miles, but I did. In the long run (no pun intended) it is better to be 100% healthy and 90% trained than 100% trained and 90% healthy. Sometimes, in the moment I struggle to look beyond the number in the training log, but I’m hardly ever upset after the fact if I decided to put that ego away and do what I know deep down was right.
Having an ego is an extremely important tool in any person’s toolkit. Confidence is key in many aspects of life, including running. However, overconfidence can be just as detrimental as lacking confidence. Keep yourself in check and learn to differentiate between mental roadblocks and physical roadblocks. Believe in your abilities, trust in your training, and stay mentally sharp – but don’t overdo it. This isn’t always easy to differentiate and takes training and experience to apply correctly. Sometimes you have to learn the lesson the hard way (like dropping out of a race you have trained months for). If you can successfully train your ego to believe in your abilities, but also recognize when you are operating outside of them, then you will surely find a recipe for success.