Monday, June 2, 2014

Take it to the Limit

Men's Health magazine feature (April 2012?)

(note: the magazine article has a different content)
High-altitude mountaineering, added with bad weather or sickness ‘bonuses’ – will over-test one’s limit.  Physically and mentally!

While there is in fact a physical/ physiological limit (which we sometimes don’t reach due to sound logical reasoning),  ‘knowing’ (or thinking) one’s end-line is oftentimes the real game.  Especially in endurance sports, majority of one’s mental limit comes way ahead than his/her physical limit.  Maybe a self-preservation genetic programming in us.  All around us or through-out our lives, by experience and/or mental conditioning, we set some sort of ‘limits’ to many things that we do.    “I can’t possibly run a 5km distance in 30mins?!”  “I can’t swim 1km in 25mins!”  “I don’t think I can approach a girl in bar if I’m not tipsy” :)  “I don’t think I can ever climb Everest!”
Sometimes, these thoughts are very strong and we’re actually programmed to stop or quit when we reached them.  This limits often come way ahead than our real physical limits. Or worse, these limiting thoughts may even prevent us from starting something altogether. These “mental boundaries” has no place in a difficult-to-live world!  Or difficult task like achieving one’s personal dream. 

Some things that may help in stretching (or going beyond) these mental limits and hopefully meeting your end-objectives;
1.      Build patience.  Endurance athletes (long-distance runners, ironman triathletes, long distance paddlers or cyclists, etc) understand patience a lot.  Learn to build patience by doing and sustaining the same thing for a long, long time.  This unfortunately doesn’t apply to endurance TV watching, endurance internet, or other endurance bad habits. 
2.      Break personal ‘patience record’ from time to time.  Applies to beginners, or those just starting on something. This means breaking time or distance record.   I sometimes do boring routines without distance objective – just a time test to build patience further.  Walking on a highway for 7 hours for example?  Breaking one’s record increases confidence and stretches ones limits.
3.      If you can’t break personal patience record on your own - bring in a trainer-buddy, a stronger person.  One doing the ra-ra while you ponder on quitting or how miserable your life is - works.  Or, suffer endless bad jokes back home if you quit or fail big time.   
4.      “No pain, no gain!”  One needs to experience suffering and pain to be mentally tougher.  It stretches the mental boundary farther.  Cramps that last for hours?  Explosive heartbeat on a never-ending uphill terrain? Sore muscles so far away from your objective? Thirsty and hungry and many hours away from supply?  Too hot or too cold and many hours away from relief?  Include some ‘pains’ in your training to simulate real-life or real-sports events.  Or, don’t train before a relatively manageable but difficult trip – my personal style and favourite given my laziness.  6-hour cyclic cramps in Banahaw? Bring it on!  No drink during the entire uphill summer climb in Maculot?! (It was ok.)  Oh – don’t mention much to your sports doctor, they may not approve or like your training program.
5.      When you’re more able – train solo!  Not advisable (safety-wise) really, but if one wanted to accelerate his go-go-even-if-scared-or-tired, this one works very well.  Your risk. Go to a ‘safe for solo’ places and have ready help contacts. This works if you had already built a never-quit attitude.  The extra mental challenge is not to have someone cheering you up when the going gets tough.  In life, or non-team sports – this normally happens.  If you get past your set challenge, you’d be stronger the next time.
6.      If you see a big objective to be way over your limit, break it down into smaller chunks.  This is achieving real objectives, gradually.   Those who had done an ironman triathlon distance for example, had first finished many shorter standard (or olympic) distances.  Or in climbing, it would be insane and stupid to climb Mt Everest as your first-ever alpine/high-altitude mountain.  Break it down by climbing difficult mountains of lesser height to build patience, endurance and so on.   One has less chance of quitting (or dying) if he/she has built enough confidence and mental ‘strength’ through tough and difficult experiences.

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