Mindset
November 16, 2017

A Simple Strategy For Managing Pain During Training And Racing

A man running during a race

It’s easy to think that training is all that is required to perform well in your next race and while training is obviously vital, mental strength is just as important – maybe more so.

A mistake many athletes make is not realising that great mental strength is of the utmost importance when it comes to developing your athletic abilities and racing to your potential.

We all say that we want our mental strength to be “good;” however, “good” is basically just “not bad”⁠ – and that’s not enough.

Why?

Because racing (and life) is bloody hard and when all else is equal, the athlete who can dig deeper and push themselves further will win.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a runner, a triathlete or any other endurance junkie, the mental strength required to prepare and race such a demanding event, present a huge challenge.

Today, we’re going to talk about a simple strategy that I learned in my final years as a pro that transformed how I was able to deal with pain while training and racing.

While this skill won’t make you instantly ‘tough’, it will contribute to the development of your mental resilience and could help to ease your suffering the next time you’re in pain.

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Enter Renzie

In 2006, I was racing the ITU Triathlon World Cup Series and was slowly working my way up in the world rankings. At that level, the racing is fast and furious and I was finding myself intimidated and fearing the pain of racing.

Fortunately, I was surrounded by a world-class support team and I was introduced to a man by the name of Renzie Hanham. Renzie is a karate master (think Mr Miyakgi from the Karate Kid movies) who works with athletes and business leaders to enhance performance under pressure.

Manage Pain With Body Checks

Besides hitting me around in his dojo to teach me ways of honing my focus, Renzie introduced me to a mental exercise called body checks.

Body checks are used as a way of diverting your attention during times of pain and this exercise worked with great effect for me during my last two seasons of racing.

When you’re in pain, it’s very easy to spiral into negative self-talk that harms your performance. Having tools for coping in this situation is crucial to minimising your suffering and maximising your performance.

It’s not uncommon to suffer from things like blisters, chafing, stitch, cramps, sweat in the eyes or a hit in the nose during the swim (for the triathletes out there), during training or a race.

All of these things are usually localised to a specific area and don’t have to have a significant effect on your performance. Yet, often you let them derail performance because they pull you into a negative frame of mind and focus your attention on what is hurting, rather than on what is required to keep you moving forward as efficiently as possible.

How To Body Check

  • Notice the next time you feel pain and it’s starting to bother you and negatively affect your thoughts.
  • Move your thoughts as far away from the painful area as possible. For example, if you have a blister on your little toe that is driving you crazy, move your thoughts to your head.
  • Once away from the pain, think about another specific body part. To continue with the above example, think about your left ear. How does it feel? Does the top of your ear feel ok? How about your earlobe? Is there sweat running down it? Are your earrings still there?
  • When you have done a detailed review of the new body part, move your attention to another one that’s close by and repeat step 3 for as long as possible.

It’s that simple!

Why Does This Work?

Because, the brain can only think of one thing at a time.

By diverting your attention to the opposite end of your body and focusing in detail on small localised areas of your body, you take your mind off the pain that is hindering you.

When you’re thinking about the parts of your body that are not hurting, you are not able to think about the pain that is happening elsewhere.

This neutral state of mind allows you to continue moving forward without the suffering and often results in a delayed decline in form and performance. As you improve this skill (which takes some practice by the way), you’ll find that you can go longer and longer before your focus is pulled back to your original pain.

Give body checks a whirl and let us know how they work for you.

Coached RunningBen PulhamBen Pulham is a former professional triathlete and the founder of Coached, a heart rate training programme that helps you optimise, track and enjoy your training.