Friday, September 24, 2010
The Psychology of Fear and Pain in Racing
Dictionary.com defines Psychology as "1. the science of the mind or of mental states and processes. 2. The sum or characteristics of the mental states and processes of a person or class of persons, or of the mental states and processes involved in a field of activity." Fears, doubts, and anxieties are byproducts of mental training, just as lactic acid is a byproduct of physical training. It just happens.
I was thinking about my first race--and truly, I can't remember it. I wish I could remember whether it was a road race, or a XC race. I think the reason I can't remember my first race is because there was no pressure, no standards by which to gauge my performance. It was simply accomplished for the sheer joy of the sport. I do remember my first marathon though--Twin Cities 2007--the hot year. I remember crossing the line, and my friend Trey, coming up to me and saying, "Bree, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." I asked him why he was sorry, and he said because it was a terrible first marathon experience in those temperatures. My approach was different--if the experience was that bad, it could only get better from there, right?! That conversation is another blog, but from that point my heart and passion for marathons ignited.
Approaching this topic, the psychology of fear and pain in racing, as a college grad with a degree in psychology, was spurred on by a recent article in Endurance News (generated by Hammer Nutrition). My greatest challenge in racing (and training, for that matter), has always been fear. Fear of uncertainty and pain. Uncertainty of my abilities, my training, my fitness, my ability to complete the task at hand. Yet at the same time I am drawn to the uncertainty and mystery curious of the outcome--which is why I come back to the start line, again and again. And the fear of pain. We are conditioned to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. It will hurt--but how much, and can I tolerate it? What I've learned through racing is that as I get more comfortable with the uncomfortableness of racing--it empowers me to keep on pursuing racing to better myself as an individual, and as an athlete.
The article distinguished the difference between training and racing. They gave this analogy: "Training is like a rehearsal; while racing is akin to performance. In rehearsal, we stop and start, repeat certain sections, break things down into smaller, simpler increments. We practice drills and conduct interval sessions. We pause to rest and examine, then repeat. However, in races and performances we strive for uninterrupted continuity and perfection while in the presence of others."
The road to the start line is similar to that of a death march. A part of me will die on that day-the part that doubts I'm able to do it. As I approach the start line of the Chicago Marathon on 10/10/10, a part of me will die again. The part that is unsure of whether I can do it. I will do it.