The sheer scale of endurance events means that they are mentally and physically very challenging. The scale of the personal challenge is often a major motivation for people to take part in the first place. An endurance event can thus be a daunting prospect for anyone. If you are inexperienced, then anxiety can be produced by a fear of the unknown and the various horror stories recounted by friends, or on the internet. Likewise, though, experienced or more competitive athletes might be anxious precisely because they know of the difficulties that lie ahead, and the amount of effort required to achieve a goal. It should come as no surprise then that periods of the race can feel exceedingly difficult regardless of your experience.
The fact is, however, that these events are likely to feel difficult. Overcoming the difficult forms part of the challenge. A great deal of satisfaction that comes from wearing a finisher’s medal or reporting a new PB comes from a sense of overcoming a difficult challenge. The urge to slow down, stop or even consider stopping altogether is entirely normal. We find that accepting the fact the event is tough but having a sense that you can overcome the challenge, can lead to not only a more enjoyable race but also a better performance.
The inner voice telling, increasingly loudly to slow down or stop is familiar to most endurance athletes. It sets out to convince you that you can’t reach the end of your event or training session at the current pace. The first thing to realise about this voice however, is that it lies to you! We have all seen people, apparently exhausted, suddenly see the finish line and raise a fantastic sprint finish. This would not be possible if they were truly as physically exhausted as they have been telling themselves for the past number of miles.
This of course does not mean that we can all simply sprint the entire distance of a marathon and ignore the signals of distress which our body will rapidly create. There is a certain point at which the voice will become irresistible. Instead what we are seeking to do is operate in a sweet spot where the voice is there, but after a period of adjustment we find ourselves able to cope with it. Rather than attaching negative words to these feelings we can know that we are working well and appropriately for the event. Confidence will increase as we realise that we are giving a tremendous effort towards our goal and that we are proving that we can go harder than our inner pessimist would like to suggest.
Like every aspect of endurance sport this ability can be improved with training. Training at a high intensity (for the distance) for extended periods not only provides obvious physical benefits but affords the opportunity to engage with the urge to stop and tune in to the volume of that voice which is sustainable. Feelings of discomfort trigger this voice, but experience will reduce the fear factor. Training and preparation give us all the tools we need to embrace the voice when it arrives, and competing with that voice in our ear is ultimately much more satisfying when the finish line comes.
Tips for embracing the urge to stop
Re-frame feelings of discomfort as appropriate to the challenge you have chosen. You want it to be tough and these sensations are just evidence that you are working at the right level.
Training at race pace intensities not only improves fitness but allows us to practice strategies to prove that it is possible to continue when we feel an urge to slow.
Take confidence from reaching short term targets after your mind starts to protest. When it tells you can’t maintain the pace, focus on doing so for 60s or until the next landmark – you have already proved it wrong!