The Power of the Mind

Can training yourself to not think about DNFing keep you from dropping out of an ultramarathon?

By on January 17, 2014 | Comments

AJWs TaproomEarlier this week, friend and fellow iRunFar writer Joe Uhan posted a detailed race report of his run at the Bandera 100k last weekend in Texas.

At the beginning of the piece Joe opined, “I’m convinced, that if dropping out does not cross a runner’s mind each time they race, they’re simply not running their hardest.” While I understand Joe’s point, I respectfully disagree.

In my experience, the power of positive thinking is fundamental to success in ultramarathon running. There is no denying the reality that dropping out is a fact of life in ultras, particularly at the front end of the field where runners are on the edge. However, I believe thinking about dropping out is something that we need to train ourselves not to do. While it sounds obvious, in my observation, thinking about dropping out is almost always the first step to actually dropping out. Therefore, by this logic, if we can possibly train ourselves to not even think about it, perhaps we can prevent the cycle from ever even starting.

While my days of running at the front of the pack are behind me, I do recall from some of my earlier races the tremendously draining mental games that were necessary for me to block out certain aspects of the experience to keep me focused on the task at hand. In essence, I found in those years that the less thinking I did, the better. In fact, it did not just require not thinking about dropping, it required endeavoring to not think about anything. And, reflecting back a few years, my most successful races, the 2005 Western States 100 and 2010 Vermont 100, were races in which my mind went completely blank during the last four painful hours and, as such, I was able to run harder than I ever had before.

We’re all wired differently in regard to our temperament and mental fortitude. For some, the mind/body connection is simply too strong to prevent the inevitable wandering. For others, the lack of experience makes it difficult to visualize and actualize the power to harness mental disruption. Nonetheless, regardless of temperament and training, I do believe one can ultimately force the issue and transcend the moment.

Through consistent, disciplined mental training, both on the run and in life, I believe we can exceed our expectations and overcome tremendous adversity. Indeed, in the crucible of extreme endurance sports this is, quite possibly, what it’s all about.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Founders Breakfast StoutThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Taproom favorite Founders Brewery in Michigan. Their Breakfast Stout is a deep, dark, coffee-toned stout that you can almost eat with a spoon. It has that classic Stout mouthfeel and a graceful aftertaste that makes drinking just one virtually impossible.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • When has allowing thoughts about DNFing led to you dropping out of a race when, in hindsight, you needn’t have?
  • How do you mentally train yourself to avoid DNFing?
  • What mental games do you play while racing to avoid thinking about DNF? To avoid dropping out even when you do think about DNFing?
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Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.