You may remember Hunter from this post. If not, take a peek and rejoin us.
Youth isn’t necessarily indicative of inexperience. Hunter’s years have been full. He’s battled addiction, travelled the world and has graced the cover of national magazines. Despite his seasoning, life hasn’t always been kind to Hunter. He’s still in the process of finding his way.
A few days back, he texted me this question:
“When you were younger, how did you avoid all the partying and temptation…I unfortunately still have my sweet tooth for those things.”
Turns out, Hunter is a human being.
Perhaps this is why his leadership is so inspirational. After all, a strong mind certainly must perform some heavy lifting.
Teach us something, young buck.
Winning an endurance race is an ultimate test of merit and mettle. In order to have a shot of standing on the podium, we have to arrive at the starting blocks the right way.
When I step up to the line on race day, whether it’s a 400m lap or the Kona Iron Man World Championships, I want to be able to tell myself that I have trained hard enough to win. My drive during the hardest part of the race comes from being able to say that I was the one putting in the grueling hours before it even started. There is no greater feeling. For me, there are three keys I always follow before and during races.
- Mental Willpower
During my rookie year, I went down to Mexico. We were racing in the mountains of Via Del Bravo, a lake town outside of Mexico City. We were up 9000 feet in the mountains, something I had never experienced in racing. During my warmups, I felt heavy and worn down. The race started and it felt like someone had taken the air right out of my lungs. I knew my body wasn’t going to be the difference maker in the race; it had to be all mind over matter. I didn’t win that day, but I did take second, something I owe entirely to my hard will to fight. It cemented for me that the mind is a powerful thing. You only have a chance if you give yourself one.
Being a good endurance athlete means you must be a suffer soldier. I use mantras to get me through every situation, whether rock paper scissors or a championship event. My most recent world championship event was one of the hardest tests I’ve ever had to endure. During the first descent down the mountain, I rolled my ankle twice, nearly taking me out of the race. I refused to quit when I had come this far. I began my chant of “STRONG MIND, STRONG BODY” over and over again. The pain was still there, but the crippling thoughts were no longer present. 3 hours and 5 more climbs up and down the mountain later, I finished 3rd in the world. As silly as it sounds, find something that makes you feel like a rock star. I learned this from the great Mark Devine – “feeling good, looking good, oughta be in Hollywood”
- Training Partners
A good training partner can be the most valuable tool in the gym. There is no greater motivation that the support that comes from a good partner. For me, the trash talk and competition from a friend spur me on to new personal records. My greatest moments come after a stabbing insult from one of my friends, next thing you know, I’m deadlifting 450lbs to prove a point.
Make sure you find a partner that is in tune with you. Training with a top athlete in the world who eats a special diet and runs 100 miles a week doesn’t help if you can’t follow the same plan. Find someone who makes you smile, who motivates you through the grind and keeps you happy while training. I finish up my brutal crossfit workouts still smiling ear to ear.
Most endurance athletes may be on the slender side, but they still eat like a freshman in college. If you’re asking a lot from your body, you need to be putting in the correct fuel. It will be the difference not only on race day, but in your longevity as an athlete. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, but adding in fresh foods is something we should all be doing.
I learned this one the hard way. I’ve often taken the “bro” approach to everything. Last year, I climbed Mount Baldy in Southern California, a vicious climb that takes you 6000 feet up in 6 miles. I thought I was macho enough to do it with only a few water bottles. Two and a half hours later, I made it to the top, in pain and in a daze. When I did it again a few months ago, I did it the right way. I had gel packets I took in every 45 minutes and drank water every 15. Not only did I make it to the top in an hour and fifty minutes, I was able to appreciate what I had done and make it back down in 45.
That wasn’t the only mistake I’ve made along the way. I’ve had my fair share of them.
I’ve spent the majority of my life overtraining. I watched movies like Rocky and thought that everyone else was training harder than me. At one point, I read about a few top tier runners putting in big miles on the trails. I quickly doubled and tripled the miles I had been putting in. I thought I was going to be a rock star, but my body simply wasn’t ready for the stress. By the time my actual races arrived, I was deep into a hole of over training. The “no pain, no gain” mentality crushed my power output and I performed terribly. I pulled back in my training, took a few weeks off, and cut down the miles to an appropriate level.
Now, I train smart with a focus of quality over quantity. I don’t lose myself in senseless hours of work.
- Over thinking.
This is the flip side of willpower. Don’t let yourself get punked by the other athletes or lose your confidence over fear of not hitting a new personal record. When I am struggling during a race, I try to simplifying everything that is going on. I count steps, say my mantra or look at the ground. As silly as it sounds, your race can get much worse if you allow your thoughts to fly all over the place. Focus on simple things like footsteps that will help distract you from the pain or nerves. By the time you’re bored with counting the pain will have faded and you can get back to the charge!
If you want to move forward in your endurance career, or any exercise program, recovery is just as important as time spent in the gym. Mobility and rest need to be just as important as your fitness levels. Find one day a week to focus on mobility. Take naps whenever you get the chance. I always thought that if Navy SEALS don’t have to sleep, why should I? I did some research and saw a theme. All the best athletes sleep like crazy. My old coach Brian Mackenzie is a big fan of the supine position; he wanted me focusing more on my down time than my training. Since my new understanding of the importance of rest, I try to focus on getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night and a 30 to 60 minute nap every day. To become a super star athlete, you have to get that super star sleep.
Race day is ultimately just one piece of the puzzle that is my life. I may spend 20 days racing, but I spend 365 days being a physical creature. Life is about more than a race. Being an athlete, representing a sport and my sponsors, is an honor. I have found walking into a gym every day to build a bigger, stronger, faster me far more rewarding than the nights of partying I used to find such pleasure in. Perhaps writing this post inspires someone to become an athlete or at least spend some time exploring the physical life. Make every day a challenge, but most importantly, never settle for anything less than being a better you than you were yesterday.