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Inside RAAM – The Mental Game

by on July 22, 2015

When I describe participating in the team RAAM event, the discussion usually goes immediately to the perceived physical challenges of such a long race.  Common comments:  “Three thousand miles?!?”  “Seven days?!?”  “How far did you ride?”  “I couldn’t ride 20 miles!”

The thing is, I trained for the physical challenges.  I worked hard at cardiovascular health so that I could go as fast as possible.  I rode long distances so that physiologically this was not a terribly demanding challenge.  (I’m more worried about an upcoming 1,200k ride than was about RAAM.)  I had learned to manage both nutrition and hydration for the kind of racing RAAM required.  The physical game wasn’t the largest challenge.

It was the mental game.

In the lead up to the race, our constantly stated goal was to set a record for the age/gender/number category of which we were a part.  It wasn’t very far into the race that I discovered that we were well off the pace necessary to set a record.  That knowledge at times motivated me to work harder and at times was very discouraging.  I recall asking a crew member to not share that race status information unless I specifically asked for it.  I asked on occasion, but only when I was feeling particularly strong and well-rested.  When I was tired, discouraged, and otherwise off my game, I didn’t want to know the status of our attempt at the record.

There were people I specifically asked for encouraging words, and many who provided those without my requesting it.  Those text messages and Facebook posts were all a source of strength, especially when they were received at those times of discouragement.  There were several times when I climbed off the bike on a particularly challenging section of the ride when scrolling through some of the messages my eyes would well up and slow breaths were necessary.

Affirmation from the crew was important and unfortunately it often appeared as if it was ignored.  Most of the crew consistently complemented the effort of each of the times on the bike.  I tried to acknowledge the affirmation with a “thanks” each time, but I know that I didn’t always do that.  You see, I was busy evaluating my own performance each and every time.  Did I finish that ride with anything left in reserve?  Had I pushed hard enough?  Did I cause us to advance toward our goal or was I dead weight slowing the entire team down?  I’m typically not one to be negative, but I’ll confess that for that week there was a whole lot more negative self-doubting mental statements than I usually engage in during an entire month.  The more fatigued I was the worse it was.

And when I was pressing ahead in situations that were not my strength area, the negativity was hard to control.  I don’t see myself as a great climber.  There was a lot of climbing.  I tend not to do well in the heat.  There was a fair amount of heat.  Some of that was balanced by my strength areas.  I don’t mind busy highways, cities, dark, or inclement weather (rain).  Wind I’m generally neutral about … I don’t like headwinds but I can press through pretty well.  But as we all know, a negative is so much more powerful than a positive in terms of performance.

The real challenging part of the mental game is that I do it in isolation.  I don’t often reveal much about my inner life, and this was true during this race as one might expect.

My frustration and negativity erupted in Clarksburg, WV.  We were starting to gain ground on the record.  Clarksburg was a congested city that we were not successful in riding very quickly through and so it felt like we were losing hard-earned time.  I was sensitive to what seemed to me a lackadaisical attitude of crew members.  I was tired.  I was feeling quite slow and useless.  Crew members were not reading my mind about what I wanted or needed.  I didn’t know where I was going.   I just wanted to be done.  (This was also just hours before I collapsed due to sleep deprivation.)  I pulled into a parking lot, waved the follow van over, signaled the navigator to roll down his window, and then proceeded to scream at the top of my lungs about his incompetence.

I apologized with hat in hand later.  I’d like to say that the blow up aided my performance, but it didn’t.  I had long been focused on issues other than the race itself.  The mental game is challenging.  It is often a distraction.

Texts from Lori were quite helpful.  I don’t remember them all, and she is disappointed in that.  But I read them all.  Sometimes they hit home.  Sometimes they didn’t.  It wasn’t about the message itself but more about how receptive I was to them when I read them.  You see, words of encouragement need fertile ground in order to grow.  My ground wasn’t always fertile.

One of the best timed words of encouragement came from a friend at church.  She called us as a team and me in particular a “bad ass”.  She then went on to share an urban dictionary definition.

Unspoken Rules of Being Badass

  1. First rule of being a badass. A badass does not talk about being a badass. Period.
  2. Second rule of being a badass, a badass does not try to be a badass or look tough. A badass simply is a badass.
  3. A badass stays true to themselves, always. This means being themselves for themselves, and not being fake to impress others.
  4. A badass does not give up. Badasses will always push themselves for the better, no matter how hard it gets.
  5. A badass is not a jerk. A badass does not prey on the weak, and shows kindness in return to those who are kind.
  6. A badass knows his/her limits. Don’t be stupid, you’re not Superman, you’ll die if you jump off a building.
  7. A badass does not make enemies or go looking for fights. They do not fights that aren’t worth fighting either.

Why this was helpful I’m not sure.  I do know I gravitated toward #4.  I simply found it highly encouraging.  I embraced it. It came at the right time. Others picked up on the theme and when we hit the finish line, there was a sign:

badass

Thank you to all who sent words of encouragement and affirmation.  I imagine the race would have been much more difficult if your words weren’t contradicting some of the things rattling around in my head.

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