Tor des Geants is arguably one of the world’s most difficult endurance challenges. With 205 miles of rocky Alpine terrain, 150,000 ft. of cumulative gain/loss and the 76hrs and 29min’s of running time, Tor des Geants is taxing. It is as physically demanding as it is mentally. The following are my top three mental training techniques I used to achieve 2nd place at TDG. Along with these methods I offer exercises so that anyone at any level in any type of race can incorporate them into their training regime.
#1 Racing your own Race
Meaning: Zero in and focus on your own goals, no one else’s.
Tale from the Tor: Over 700 athletes are corralled into a single track trail within 2km of TDG’s start. I struggled throughout the first day of the race as dozens of runners blew past me every 30 minutes. I wanted to race with them, but competing with anyone but myself in the first day of the race would be a great mistake. By hitting my splits and focusing on my performance alone, I crossed the finish line with only one person ahead of me.
Try it yourself: Next time you compete don’t instantly aim for a position. Choose a time goal, a personal best, or a certain section that you really want to push yourself on. Conquer yourself, for that is the most difficult person you can and will ever race.
#2 Staying Present
Meaning: Being enveloped in the moment with no wandering thoughts of the future or past.
Tale from the Tor: I was over 70hrs into TDG with only 1hr and 40min’s of sleep. I labored forward as my vision spun wildly in and out of focus. I crawled towards the second to last climb of the race. Sunrise was hours away as my mind began to wander. A few hundred feet ahead of me I saw an old man. He’d set up a table of old Italian books as if at a Sunday market. I gazed intensely at his figure, he looked right back at me. “Was he real? He can’t be real” I glanced back at the trail as my mind wandered far away from the present.
“Nick” I said out loud to myself.
“Where are you?”
“I’m on Col Champillon, headed towards Bosses” I replied.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m climbing! I’m racing!” I answered sharply.
“Are you moving the most effective and efficient way possible?”
I slowed down and listened to the tick of my hiking poles, I listened to my breath and felt my heart beat. I took several deep breaths in through my nose and took a step forward.
“Tick, Tack, Tick, Tack” I said out loud to myself mimicking the poles sound. I turned around to check on the old man one last time and just like my wandering mind, he was gone.
Try it yourself: Nasal Breathing
1) Start by running 2-5min’s at a comfortable pace
2) Take a big sip of water. Don’t swallow it, keep it in your mouth and breathe through your nose. Your pace should drop dramatically and your sensory awareness of the present environment around you will quadruple.
#3 Positive Thought
Meaning: A mountain is a mountain. Negative and positive connotations of the mountain come entirely from your thoughts. In Zen the Art of Happiness the author encourages the readers to conceive their “mountains” with positive thoughts.
Tale from the Tor: I fought to stay positive throughout the first night. I was halfway up the second largest pass. I thought I saw a star far above me. My heart deflated when the star blinked. Another athlete thousands of feet above me topped out over the climb. Despite hours that had already passed, I was far from the top. Immediately I felt frustrated and thoughts like “stupid climb”, “I’m dead”, “I’m tired” erupted. I stood still and took in several long breaths. This climb wasn’t stupid,
“I’m fortunate to be out here” I exclaimed.
And I wasn’t tired or dead,
“I am strong, I am powerful” I yelled as I pounded my poles back into the dark earth.
Try it yourself:
- Think of your least favorite hill, trail or training run. Write down everything negative you have to say about it.
- Go to a thesaurus and find an antonym for every single word you’ve written down.
- Next time you do that workout replace every single negative word with the positive antonym you discovered. It may seem trivial at first, but I promise you it makes a difference.