It may seem a little bit sadistic and puritan to be suggesting you toughen up during the most indulgent time of the year but that is exactly what we are suggesting.
For any of you planning on taking part in one of our multi-sport adventure races in 2017, whether a sprint version or the full distance, mental toughness is going to play a huge part in your performance. By their very nature they involve being out there for a number of hours (3+ for most people and up to 9 hours for some). They also involve dealing with challenging weather conditions, whether that is in February or August, this is Ireland after all. You may also be going it alone and will have to endure the voices in your head shouting at you with all the negative, self-defeating thoughts they can come up with. Then there are the physical challenges – the blisters, the leg cramps, saddle-soreness, etc that you may have to deal with. Are we trying to put you off doing one of these events? Absolutely not!
The toughest time of the year
So how do you train mental toughness and why this time of year? There are a number of ways which we will talk about in a minute but why this time of year is easy to answer. It is the toughest time of the year to train physically. The weather is most challenging, the daylight most limited, the appeal of rich food, alcohol, warm fires and party nights out is strongest and sadly for some people it is also a stressful time of year with the loss of loved ones felt most keenly, family feuding, extra bills and other seasonal stresses. To actually continue with an exercise regime can seem almost impossible. Yet the benefits are also greatest. We all know the positive effects of exercise on mental health and on stress relief and on staying well and avoiding colds and flus. Maintaining your fitness throughout winter and then taking on an adventure challenge in spring or summer 2017 will be a huge personal achievement. Not only that but it will feel so much easier as you will not have those added winter challenges to deal with.
So how do we go about the training of our mental muscles? There are a number of perfect winter fixes available. Indoor pursuits such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes will help to improve mental well-being, positivity and focus, clearing the mental detritus that we all carry and often holds us back. After that it is a matter of gradually challenging yourself without killing your love for what you are doing. Go out in bad weather, stay out a little bit longer, make yourself go at the times when you would prefer to choose more indulgent past times (Christmas morning being the obvious one!).
Of course being well-prepared physically will also help the mental challenge of taking on a longer adventure challenge. If you do not feel you have put in the training time or are fit enough you will be starting on the back foot with self-doubt creeping in. Likewise if you are concerned about injury you will be more stressed (see our blog on injury prevention). Even something like not having the correct gear or clothing you need to be comfortable can completely throw you off. We will be talking about gear and clothing in a later winter fix blog.
We may be making it sound like a simple solution to what for some people can be the biggest challenge of them all but we are fully aware of how important mental toughness is. Each of us on the Killary Gaelforce team have lined up at the start line of a major adventure challenge and felt fear and self-doubt. We have all looked up at Croagh Patrick or Mount Errigal on a wet and windy day and doubted our ability to conquer it. But most reassuringly we have all felt the triumph and pure elation of crossing the finish line and realising that what got us there was our mental toughness.
For the first timer we would suggest the sprint distance events in Gaelforce Dublin on February 18th or if you need a bit more time, the Connemara Adventure Challenge is sprint distance only on the 6th May 2017. Gaelforce North is ideal for combining with a weekend away in beautiful Donegal and has a sprint distance event on 23rd September 2017. For those that want to push it further and really test their mental toughness we have the full distance adventure races at Gaelforce Dublin, Gaelforce West (June 24th) and Gaelforce North. Plenty of challenges ahead!
Good luck with your festive training and keep at it.