If there’s one thing that connects all of us in the world of obstacle racing, it’s that we have a high physical tolerance for pain. Let’s face it – we pay money to put ourselves through grueling physical and mental challenges all in the name of a good time. Our friends often laugh at us when we talk about what we put in the “fun” category of our lives. So either we really enjoy tough climbs, challenging obstacles and, let’s face it, burpees…or our “suck-o-meter” is severely miscalibrated.
But sometimes, even the toughest and most mentally strong among us hit that point in a race where it REALLY starts to suck. Or we show up at a race where the conditions and terrain skew toward complete and total suckage. And those situations can play some serious games with our physical strength and mental focus.
A couple personal situations come to mind for me. The first is the 2016 SoCal Sprint in Temecula, which happened to take place on the one rainy weekend in Southern California in the entire month of January. My start time was 2:00pm, which was right when the storm was at its worst. This was a hilly course hit with winds and sideways rain, turning the ground on the steep climbs into wet, sludgy mud. And at the top of those hills, we hit winds that nearly knocked us off of our feet. My best description of the course that day was “treacherous”.
The other example I have was my experience at the Tahoe Beast in 2016. That was my first Beast and my first time on a World Championship Spartan Race course in Tahoe. My start time was 12:15pm, and the weather was beautiful. But around sundown – right as I was at the summit of the mountain – Mother Nature had other ideas and the weather turned cold and windy. And that was right about when I dropped chest deep into water at the Ape Hanger obstacle. I spent the rest of the race doing everything I could to avoid hypothermia and slowly make my way to the finish line.
I’m sure many of us can recall experiences that start well and good and quickly shift to a pile of suck. Or possibly started that way and, if nothing else, stayed consistent. So when these situations happen – and let’s face it, they will – here are a few suggestions on how to prevent ourselves from completely losing it so we can stay the course both mentally and physically.
TAKE A MOMENT TO SOAK IN THE SURROUNDINGS
One of the things Spartan Race does incredibly well is choose beautiful locations for their races. With rare exception, there is ALWAYS something cool to see no matter where you’re racing. I find that when I’m tired, in pain or flagging mentally, one of the very best things I can do is to stop what I’m doing and take a look around. Taking an opportunity to truly appreciate the beauty of nature is a great way to get some perspective and reset your mind to keep moving forward. I distinctly remember doing this at the Monterey Super. In this race, it became commonplace to have a climb immediately followed by a steeper climb with a clear view of a long, super steep climb just around the corner. Looking at that view had the potential to be incredibly demoralizing. But by simply taking a look to the left or right rather than straight up, I could see beautiful canyons on a gorgeous day. By taking a brief rest to soak it all in, I was able to reset my mind and body to keep moving onward and upward.
ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER
When things start to suck, it’s easy to get caught up in the big picture of the magnitude and scope of the suck. And as much as we hear the mantra “Embrace the Suck” – when you’re in the thick of the suck, you may just feel like punching anyone who utters those words right in the mouth. So instead, I recommend simply focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Remind yourself that each step is a step forward, and each step forward is a step closer to the finish line. Don’t think about how many miles you have left while being pelted with rain – just keep moving forward. Or as Dory says – just keep swimming!
FIND WAYS TO LAUGH AT THE RIDICULOUSNESS OF IT ALL
This is my favorite technique for dealing with massive suck in a race. Going back to that Temecula race – as I was on the start line with my race partner, being pelted with rain and wind and knowing the true world of suck I had ahead of me – the whole thing became funny to me. I turned to my race partner and sarcastically said, “Best day ever!” She laughed and repeated it back to me. And then we took off and started the race.
And then, anytime the race became really and truly sucky, that was a prompt for either of us to proclaim, “Best Day Ever!” once again. We must have said that phrase twenty times during the race. It became an instant brain reset and prevented us from wallowing in the misery that we experienced. We loved that mantra so much that we used it as our team name for the Tahoe Spartan Beast. It allowed us to have that light and fun mindset going into what we knew would be a tough and painful race.
Any expert will tell you to come up with positive mantras before you start a tough race to keep your mental focus. Usually those mantras will be centered around reminding yourself of how strong you are, that the best things happen when we face our fears, and that nothing good ever comes from remaining in your comfort zone. And as helpful as those types of mantras are, my advice here is to bring some humor into the situation. Laugh in the face of danger, as they say.
Remember ultimately, we are doing these events – with all of the pain and suffering that they bring – because we find them to be fun. And that, my friends, is pretty ridiculous. So have some fun with the situations you find yourself in during these races.
Here’s to a 2017 season filled with your exact preferred amount of suck!