User manual for mental strength!

26 April, 2013 | Written by Recuperat-ion Recuperat-ion

Article by Meritxell Bellatriu / Sport
Psychologist / Col. No. 13811
“We can not run 75km without pain, but we
must learn how to overcome it, accept it and deal with it. You have to walk
when things are not going well and be patient, because I learned that it always
ends up passing.” (Serge Girard, ultra runner).
In competition, the athlete must
be at his maximum capacity, both physical and psychological, to meet his
objectives. Sport Psychology is more and more recognized for enhancing
performance. On many occasions, psychology marks the difference against other
The endurance races (triathlon,
marathon, ultra trail…) are increasingly more popular. Initially we met
professional athletes, but also people very involved in their sports activity
and who find the runner experience very rewarding.
In both cases, the race begins
with a very high motivation, but in some cases we also find an excess of
tension, doubts and concerns in relation to the importance of the subjective
race and the possibility of not achieving the desired objectives.
Copyright:  Triathlon Alpe d’Huez
In endurance sports, given the
high level of difficulty, there are a series of psychological aspects that play
an important role on the performance, which may affect it or improve it. These
aspects can have an effect before the competition, such as anxiety, mood or a
lack of motivation, or during the competition, such as the anticipation of the
result, the lack of concentration, etc..
The pain occurs when the athlete feels
the sensation of threat of not achieving the desired objectives, along with the
impotence of not having the necessary resources to fight. This phenomenon is
usually accompanied by negative emotions such as discouragement, anxiety or
When the threat appears it is
necessary to assess the situation and determine if we can overcome it. If the
analysis made by the athlete does not lead to any solution, this is a situation
of impotence. The perception of threat and the impotence are the basic
conditions for psychological distress.
Copyright: Triathlon du Lac des Sapins
Endurance athletes have to deal
with muscle pain and breath shortness due to the high oxygen consumption during
the competition. The ability to tolerate pain is important in the athlete
During the competition some
perceptions, sensations or unpleasant thoughts affect immediate performance and
increase the suffering. The lack of trust, the ranking position compared to
other contestants, the lack of social support, the underestimation of
performance are some examples.
The athlete gets a feedback
(rhythm, physical sensations, distance, etc..) throughout the competition,
being able to anticipate, to some extent, the results before the finish line.
So he anticipates the outcome and whether he will meet his objective or not.
If the goal seems reachable, it
will not convert into a threat and will not cause suffering. If instead it
seems lost, the suffering comes, causing therefore a threat to the athlete, a
greater sensitivity to pain, and ultimately a decrease in performance, which may
push the athlete to abandon the race.
Athletes who have a higher level
of confidence and motivation, who feel that they are able to achieve their
goals, who have a stable mood, who have little concern before the competition,
etc.., have a greater probability to prevent and handle pain.
There are some mental strategies
that can help the athlete face the race successfully, increasing his tolerance
against the adversity.
– Dissociative strategy:
centralize his attention on external stimuli to the race. Beneficial in less
critical phases.
– Associative strategy: focus his
attention and thoughts on his own physical sensations. Specifically, it allows
running faster or resisting better during intense efforts.
Alternating these two strategies
can help increase performance over a long distance race.
Professional athletes or athletes
with very high objectives should primarily use the associative strategy. In
contrast, athletes with less challenging ambitions will better benefit from a
dissociative strategy.
Endurance sports, with their
level of difficulty, require an adequate physical and psychological
The “competitive”
suffering is experienced when the athlete feels the sensation of threat against
the desired objectives and the perception of powerlessness over the situation.
Some of the psychological
variables that may occur in the appearance or not of psychological suffering
are: self-confidence, self-efficacy, motivation, self-dialogue and the pre-competition
anxiety. Those variables associated with a correct preparation (and a positive
perception of the preparation from the Athlete) improve the quality of the
Similarly, the appropriate use of
associative or dissociative strategies, depending on the objectives, promote
better performance and minimize the appearance of “competitive” suffering.
Information about the Author:
Twitter : @meritxellbl
Meritxell Bellatriu has a degree
in psychology, with a master’s degree in clinical psychopathology and she is an
academic expert in sports psychology. She is currently working from her office
in Barcelona, and collaborates with a rehabilitation center for athletes and
various sports teams.
Note from Recuperat-ion: a proper
hydration before, during and after exercise with a sports drink helps
preserve and improve the muscular sensations, but not only. The sport hydration
also helps improve concentration, which allow applying properly the mental
strategy against physical suffering.

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