Mental Toughness – or Fitness?
By Andy Mouncey, Jan 29 2018 12:35PM
‘Any fool can be fit. It’s being hard that’s hard.’ Joss Naylor
The cross country race.
You know you’re gonna be blowing out of your backside before the first 200 yards are up – which begs the first set of questions:
Could you blow – and still go (as it were)?
You think you are conditioned enough to handle it?
Do you want to find out?
Back to the short stuff last weekend and I struggled to remember that last time I’d toed the line on anything like this. Throw in a howling gale, snow flurries and lots of folks wearing an identical club vest to mine and we have the ingredients for a fun-filled Test Of Toughness.
Or is that Fitness?
Fitness implies a continuum – something that can be gained or lost – whereas ‘toughness’ has a more innate quality about it: More a static state. Heck – perhaps one feeds into the other…I suspect we can go round and round with this one so I’ll offer some observations instead.
Take Crossfit: The high intensity training format that combines circuit and weight training and a whole host of other requirements that yours truly has been frequenting for the last few years. I see some tough folks come through the door: Athletes, team players, fighters, emergency services and military personnel are among the everyday folks who just refuse to lie down and slow down and are resolved to do something about it.
And invariably that first group workout is a wobble. The ladies tend to come through it better than the men to my eyes – and the trend remains: Folks who are used to challenge, are in at least some shape and perform highly in their chosen field really struggle in the mental and emotional wrestling match. Their toughness is never in doubt – they proved that when they walked through the door the first time – but clearly their fitness needs some work.
Effective coaching, smart adjustments and some sobering and insightful structured reflection means that most get there over time. The new becomes familiar and the extraordinary becomes ordinary. It never gets any easier – I can vouch for that – it’s just that they become familiar with the discomfort and develop strategies to cope and capacity to meet the challenge.
Mental toughness – at least to my eyes – is clearly a quality that is time, place and activity-specific.
Switching back to ultra running mode at this time of year in this country there’s only one event that captures the headlines and triggers jaw-dropping en masse even among seasoned hard bast***s of the hills: The Spine Race 268 miles south to north on The Pennine Way as continuously as possible with just 5 checkpoints for support and all within a mid-winter week. This year the weather threw everything and the kitchen sink at the race which guaranteed another year of high attrition rate. However comprehensive the information to competitors about what the heck they can expect and what they really need to do if they want a hope in hell of seeing the finish, NOTHING can really prepare you for that week. I mean, you’ll understand what the words mean on the page of notes but emotionally it just won't connect.
Until it happens.
And that’s quite remarkable because there is also now 6 years of blogs and race reports, film and photos to color it all in.
As someone once said:
‘Experience is a hard teacher: You get the kicking first and the lessons after.’
Being tough is never in doubt – but being mentally fit enough for that race is clearly for many – me included – a Work In Progress.