Mental strength comes out on top

September 1st, 2015 by | Posted in Gotta Run! | Tags: , ,

Finishing up a Sunday morning workout along the South Saskatchewan River. Photo: Jason Warick
Finishing up a Sunday morning workout along the South Saskatchewan River. Photo: Jason Warick

The highs and lows in athletics are familiar to me. As I wrote in last week’s blog, I faced many through my hockey career. As a teenager at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in rural Saskatchewan, I began to learn how to manage these ups and downs. Then I was off to university where I continued to learn to accept setbacks and celebrate successes. Still, three decades later I have to remind myself it’s not a linear shot to athletic achievement.

A lot of what I learned about being mentally tough as a hockey player is valuable as a runner, but I’m also discovering there are different requirements to being a mentally strong runner.

Running is about the long game — patience plays a major role in ultimately determining success. Hockey, it seemed at the time, was more about immediate successes: games played, wins a losses, goals scored — there were frequent measures of success. I now realize hockey was more of a long game than I realized at the time. It wasn’t just about the immediate achievements but that’s how my brain was wired, to be very focused on, and influenced by, the everyday highs and lows.

Running has challenged me to rewire the way I think about the process. It’s not one training session or one race which determines success, it’s years of consistent hard work and belief in your ability. I find this tremendously liberating.

Running is such a pure sport. I compete with, and challenge myself. The measure of success isn’t misconstrued by subjective judgment as it often is in other sports.

As a hockey player there were variables I had little to no control over playing into my overall success: Coaches approving, or not, of my play, teammates who were, or weren’t committed. Other people’s attitudes, thoughts and beliefs had an impact on determining my own success. There were few objective measures of success beyond the number of goals scored or games won.

Scoring goals was a very rewarding part of the sport for me. Not for reasons of showboating or bragging rights but because I got a thrill from the direct measurement of progress. I enjoyed pushing myself to see what I could achieve in a single game, season, or season-over-season. However, even scoring goals in hockey is not as pure a measurement of athletic achievement as I find in running.

With the simplicity of one stride after another, running is a game with myself, striving to get the most from both my body and my mind.

The acute physical challenge of running presents necessary mental acuity. With every up and down I move closer to this.

Struggling with my health this past month has been a test of mental strength. It’s been difficult not hitting paces I hoped for and being held back in workouts. However, I’m recognizing it’s important to stay positive during down time and reminding myself it’s about the long game. Mental strength is just as, if not more, important than the physical. If this past month has taught me that, I will take it as a win.