THE ART OF ENDURANCE: AN IRON MIND
“THE HARDEST THING TO TRAIN WILL BE THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL YOU HAVE”
To push your endurance limits to new heights takes a finely tuned body, one that has been conditioned over many months, even years. It takes bucket-loads of sweat, grit, discipline and a level of physical exertion that 99% of the population would shy away from. But there comes a point during any endurance journey where your body just simply says (or rather, shouts) “Hey mate, I’m done. The tank is empty”. It’s otherwise known as ‘hitting a wall’, where physical strength appears to do an evasive dance around you, then run for the hills.
So, what’s your plan when this inevitable situation comes a-knocking? The plan is to whip out your most deadly weapon of all … your mental strength. Your iron mind. Your sheer determination to put mind over matter and get back up. And boy, is this a powerful tool if you know how to wield it right! It’s what makes olympians and world record breakers, and it’s what allows any ordinary person to achieve something extraordinary. What I’ve learned through my expeditions, and life in general, is that mental strength doesn’t just happen – it takes training just like your body. You have to consistently push beyond your comfort zone to even be able to begin that training, which isn’t the easiest thing anyone ever tried.
For me personally, it takes a funny old combination of four things. First, the willingness and ability to be very, very patient – this allows me to calmly see the bigger picture, and thus to dig deep over long periods of physical strain. Second, and seemingly in conflict to the last, is a healthy dose of impatience – this gives me sudden and intense determination to push hard to get to a goal. Next, the all important passion for what you are doing – nothing beats it! And finally, curiosity – a fascination with the relationship between mind and body, and what will happen when I go further than I’ve ever been able to before. Phew… right, enough of the heavy stuff, and onto my Thames River swim.
I have to say, it has been nothing like I expected. Nothing. It has been both tougher and more rewarding than I had hoped for. And all because of the huge mental challenge it threw at me. I had prepped my cardio, my strength, my gear, everything, but I hadn’t prepared for the hours on end of boredom. The murky, brown water with almost no visibility takes up 50% of my view for the day. The side of the SUP and a bit of tree-top takes up the other 50% of my view for the day. I can’t hear anything thanks to silicone ear plugs. I can’t speak with my face in the water. It’s like being deaf, dumb and partially blind for 10 hours of the day, every day. It’s about the most anti-social thing I’ve ever undertaken! To my annoyance, breaststroke is out of the question thanks to big hip misalignment issues – it inflames my sacroiliac joint something chronic.
In simple terms, you experience total isolation while swimming. It’s hard to explain to those around you because most of us never experienced such extensive periods of time with only your thoughts in your head to entertain you. On the bright side, it’s an incredibly calm, almost surreal place to be. Time slows down to the point where you lose track of it completely. You sense a very heightened awareness of your body and your technique. On one occasion (granted I was quite exhausted at the time) I became so relaxed and ‘zoned out’ that I almost fell asleep mid swim! On other days, the frustration of being alone got the better of me and I would end up itching to get to the next lock simply to be able to talk to James, my support man on a SUP, for a few minutes before diving back into the water for another 2 hours.
What got me through this swim? An iron mind. Hands down.
All in all it’s been a physical, mental and emotional roller-coaster ride! Epic, epic highs and fascinating lows. Everything I wanted and then some. I’m a big believer that it is when we challenge ourselves that we grow. I have come out the other end at least another inch taller than when I arrived at the start line! Happy days!
Immerse yourself in the minds of these incredible athletes via the www.theironminds.com project.