Your mind is like a good golden retriever. It aims to fetch what you toss it.
So toss it something useful.
When you are training or racing, where you place your attention matters a great deal. When you have a stitch in your side, if you give it your full attention, it only intensifies. When you raise a blister on your toe, paying attention to it will only make it, in your mind’s eye, bigger, more prominent and hotter. And when you are really riding or running well, when you attend to it, it’s a great feeling as well.
Fortunately, after all your training and racing, there’s one thing you know for sure. Nothing is as important as the thing you are thinking about right now. Think about it. Remember something from yesterday that had you all consumed. How much less all-consuming is it now? Certainly not such a big deal.
So you get a heightened sense of importance concerning the thing that has your attention, right now.
How can you use this phenomenon to your advantage? Let go of what doesn’t matter and replace it by attending to what’s important and useful.
A friend was once US Navy Seal. I asked him how he handled the notoriously long bouts of wrestling around in notoriously frigid water when he was going through Seal training. Being a biologist, he turned his attention to what was useful. “First, I quit thinking about how cold the water was—very. I turned my thoughts to my physiology. ‘Isn’t it amazing,’ I thought, ‘that my body can shunt blood from here to there to preserve body heat, my metabolism can crank up spontaneously?’ I pictured all that heat from my core coursing around. I attended to what mattered.”
This weekend, plenty of athletes will have to attend to what matters. They will be running the Leadville 100 Trail Run, staring at more than 10,000 feet above sea level and going up from there. During their 100-mile run, they will have plenty of time to think about things and focus (and re-focus) their attention. Runners have up to 30 hours to complete the full distance. That’s a long time to think about running, bilsters, chafing, fatigue, hunger, dyspepsia, cold, heat, thirst and more. At last year’s race, Craig Howie, who ran it in a little over 19 hours, was thinking ahead to the steep Powerline up hill up ahead. He muttered, barely aloud, as he ran along, “I’ll have to walk up Powerline, but I will walk with purpose.” He was attending to what was important, thinking about what he had to do.
Your evaluation of what you are thinking also matters. You have a feeling—a little tiny pain in your foot, or an embryonic cramp in your hamstring. What you think about what you are thinking is important. As Williams Shakespeare wrote “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If you start to focus on that pain, and attribute all kinds of terrible meanings to it, you are attending, my friend, to the wrong thing. You can decide to give it whatever meaning is important.
“Hmm, I feel a little cramp coming on. I’ll do a little quick massage of my gluteus medius as I’m running along here, and see if it will ease off a bit. While I’m doing that, I’ll attend to my stride and cadence, and get everything going smoothly.” You attend to what matters.
Best of luck to all the athletes at Leadville this weekend. May they attend to what will help them most during a most excellent endeavor.