For the last several months I have been preparing for a long distance walk, a two-day event that includes a marathon (26.2 miles) on the first day and a half-marathon (13.1 miles) on the second. The walk, an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, takes place in a couple of weeks in Santa Barbara. Signed up to do the walk with four friends, the constraints of business and family have meant that most of my training has been on my own. Training means walking a lot so that what seems like a long distance – say 10 or 12 miles – becomes easy. No big deal. It’s physical certainly – building up the legs and just having more stamina – but it’s also mental.
And here’s where the mind tricks come in. So much depends on controlling one’s mind, keeping thoughts focused on non-walk related topics. I write blogs in my head while I walk, work out problems, make decisions. Yesterday, on my walk I decided not to be interviewed by a reporter for an Austrian newspaper about a controversial blog post I wrote about illegal abortion. Already having agreed, I felt compelled to follow through and yet I knew there wasn’t anything more I wanted to say – especially to people in Austria! Happily, the isolation of walking, the rhythm of it, the ‘on your own-ness’ of it allows for uninterrupted dialogue in one’s head where questions can be asked and answered, arguments made and resolved. There’s a lot of clarity in physical repetition that makes me look forward to my long walks. It makes for careful decision-making.
But mind tricks are also part of distance walking. Coming up a big hill yesterday, super hot, hat and shirt soaked through, lukewarm water in my pack, my mind is saying ‘stop for a minute and look back down the hill’ the same time it’s saying ‘don’t look, get to the top first’ and before I even realize a decision’s been made, I’m standing off the walk on the grass looking back, the sliver of wanting to stop putting the brakes on me. No conscious decision was made. I let the idea creep in to my head and it stopped me.
When athletes talk about mental toughness, this is what they’re talking about, I think. Keeping control of one’s thoughts so the renegade whiner doesn’t take over. Keeping doubt at bay, not stopping to look back. Learning to master the mind tricks is as important as building the muscles. I’ve said before – because I’ve done two 3-Day (60 mile) walks – that the key to finishing a long distance walk is to keep walking. This sounds silly but it’s so true – finishing means controlling the growing, almost irresistible urge to stop.
That’s what I’m working on now.
More posts to come in my Walk Diary as I get ready for the big pink show in Santa Barbara.