Meeting the Mental Challenge

Elite athletes make winning and training look easy. Often we think these stars are born with supernatural ability, and we could never match their skills. While natural talent may play a role in an top tier athlete’s success, another ingredient plays a vital part, writes Gina Kolata in a New York Times article. “I was given a body that could train every single day,” said two-time New York Marathon winner Tom Fleming. “And a mind, a mentality, that believed that if I trained every day — and I could train every day — I’ll beat you.”

Could you compete at the same level as Tom Fleming and other elite athletes? At the very least, writes Kolata, you can train yourself to work at the very edge of your body’s abilities. You’ll need to use mental tools to master your full athletic potential. If you really don’t believe your body is up to this task, the good news is that you can change your mind. First know that training hard always hurts, no matter how high your ranking is. Accept this, and you’ll find those difficult workouts a bit easier to accept.

Kolata unleashes a few more helpful ways to prepare for your next race or competition. Practice the race course ahead of time. Becoming familiar with a course makes it possible to race faster. The more times you practice on this playing field, the better your ability becomes to pace yourself on this exact space. Secondly, use association. Some athletes disassociate, thinking about anything but the race they are competing in at the moment. But association, or focusing intensely on the race as you participate in it, helps athletes motivate themselves and figure out how to push hard but not too hard, says Dr. Jeroen Swart, a sports medicine physician and exercise physiologist. Achieving our optimum success level is not just about physical strength, endurance or work, it’s also about understanding and working through the mental challenges that face us as we simultaneously push ourselves physically.

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