Article by Anna Mitchell

Monday, 17th May 2010

Recently I have been fortunate enough to be approached by Anna Mitchell, Sport Psychology writer, based in the US who was writing a piece for the Quarter Horse News comparing the training and preparation an ultra runner would do versus an endurance rider. The article was published on the 15th May 2010 and Anna has very kindly agreed for me to include it on my website.

Quarter Horse News is an American based magazine but has subscribers all over the world.

Anna competed in her first 1/2 marathon in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, and managed to come in the top 10% in a field of 36,000 competitors! Well done!!

It won't be easy but it will be worth it by Anna Mitchell


"Your mind can be your strongest tool or your weakest link" - Mike Le Roux


Writing this column for the QH News is an interesting experience. Some months my topics evoke few responses and others my email and voice mail are flooded with message after message that suggest I have struck a chord with many of you. Apparently my article in the March 2010 QH news did just that as I asked you to throw away your inhibitions and dare to believe. It seems that many of us are held back by our own limitations and possibly as a result we set our sights too low.
Our personal experiences tend to set the boundaries of our imaginations which can place a 'glass ceiling' over our personal expectations. Hearing the stories of other, seemingly ordinary, people accomplishing extraordinary feats can sometimes help us see what is beyond this glass ceiling and give us the courage to aim higher. This month I want to introduce you to a remarkable athlete who is indeed stretching the realms of extraordinary as he pursues his passion in ultraendurance events.
Before you think I have cracked for talking about ultramarathons in an equine magazine let me explain why I think this sport is relevant to any of us who are striving to be better competitors. Endurance running at this level is not about who can afford the best horse or the fastest car. It is not about who is faster or more skilled. It is about who can persevere for the longest and endure the most discomfort. In other words, endurance running is purely and simply about mental strength so who better to teach us mental skills.


There are a couple of points that I want to get across this month:
1) Inspiration is a chain reaction.
2) Successful competitors are not magical nor mythical. They are people just like you and me who pulled ahead and developed an edge through hard work and perseverance.
3) Find your passion. Find something that lights a fire in your belly and that hard work becomes a whole lot easier.


First, let me introduce you to the man behind my ramblings this month. Mike Le Roux is a 34 yr old ultra-athlete who I managed to pin down for a few minutes somewhere between grueling training sessions and corporate meetings. The beauty of my job is that occasionally I come across exceptional athletes and get to take a peek into their minds in the hope of finding out what makes these individuals so good at what they do. So catching up with Le Roux was a special treat for me.


Ultra-endurance events are in a league of their own. Often they involve back to back endurance events, thus the word 'ultra'. A couple of examples include, the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii consisting of a 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike ride and a 52.4 mile double marathon over three incredibly tough days and The Badwater Ultramarathon, otherwise known as the 'the world's toughest foot race', entailing a 135mile run across Death Valley in temperatures reaching in excess of 130F. If you are interested go to: www.angelfire/electronic/ultramentor/eventslink.html to read about more of these extraordinary events.


Le Roux explains that endurance sports go beyond fitness, "The human body can only get fit to a certain point after that it's all between the ears". According to Le Roux, the body can endure as much as the brain can throw at it so you need to concentrate on strengthening the brain. Through countless hours pounding the pavement, Le Roux has done just that and is currently one of the toughest endurance competitors in the world placing 4th overall in the invitation only 2009 Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii.


Getting back to my main points for this month. Inspiration should not be underestimated as a powerful motivator. I mentioned earlier that seeing the accomplishments of others can help us expand our own realm of possibilities but it takes more than just success to inspire someone. Sometimes we need to see their struggles to appreciate their achievements and to realize that they are human just like us.


Le Roux mentioned a man, Dean Karnazes, who has been a major source of inspiration throughout his career. Karnazes has taken ultraendurance to a whole new level with one of his recent achievements; running 50 marathons in 50 States in 50 consecutive days. It is Karnazes that helped fuel the fire for Le Roux's passion for what he does but it was Le Roux who made my brother believe he could become an ironman and he just completed his second. It was sharing my brother's ups and downs that gave me the courage to give it a go. As this article goes to print I am preparing to run my first 13.1 mile half-marathon, a baby step in endurance but a huge step for me. Inspiration is indeed a chain reaction.


People who succeed in our chosen fields inspire us to try harder and make us believe that we too could achieve great things. Inspiration is a gift from above, use it to stoke your fire and carry you through the tough times then pass it on. Become a source of inspiration for others. Share your stories including your failures and enjoy the sensation of true altruism.


The second point I want to make is that people who inspire us do so because they make us believe that what they are doing is possible. Successful people are real people putting in real hours of hard work to get to the top and we can learn from them. I understand that some sports may tip the favor towards certain athletes based on the nature of that particular sport. For example, a tall individual is going to have an advantage on the basketball court over a shorter opponent but they still have to learn the rules and how to shoot. Similarly, an amateur rider who can afford a better horse and trainer may have an advantage but they still have to learn how to ride and compete.


So let's hear it from the top. What do they do that makes them so good at what they do? Le Roux explained that for him it has been largely trial and error. You have only to do a quick search on the internet to locate countless tips and training programs for triatheletes and marathon runners but when you move into the world of ultraathletes it is slim pickings for guidance. Elite athletes from all kinds of sports often come across this problem because the ranks are built like a pyramid. There are plenty of people at the bottom or who have been on the bottom but few at the top and even less who can help those once they are there. Consequently, to survive the elite learn to strike out on their own.


Le Roux has learned what works for him by experimenting. Fortunately he has hours and hours of training time to try out all kinds of conditions and techniques. Le Roux takes a 'hope for the best but prepare for the worst' approach to training and stresses that preparation is crucial for success. When preparing for a race Le Roux conducts extensive research. He gathers as much information as he can to eliminate uncertainties. By going over statistics from previous years he is able to anticipate potential obstacles and predict the type of conditions he may encounter. Le Roux uses photos of the course to authenticate his imagery/visualization exercises.
I n an attempt to prepare for the worst, Le Roux deliberately trains under extreme conditions. He will run in the hottest part of the day with extra layers and forgo food and water so his body becomes accustomed to performing under stress. Le Roux keeps a training journal to track his daily progress and tapes a goal plan to his fridge stating that, "structure is imperative to obtaining results."


In addition to achieving incredible results in his sport Le Roux also has to juggle a home life and a successful career as a project manager for a design consultancy. Le Roux states that without the endless support of his wife, Kirsten, and the understanding of his employer it would be difficult to pursue his passion in ultraendurance.


If any of these concepts are sounding familiar, they should. I have covered every one of the topics and techniques raised by Le Roux in previous articles. From preparation, imagery, intrinsic motivation, trial and error, goal setting, journaling, and support to life management these are the strategies that I have been preaching through my column to you for the last four years. This is how the good become better and how the elite get to the top. There is no magical formula it takes hard work, perseverance, education, inspiration and hard core grit. You have access to the same tools as the best of the best. It is up to you if you use them.


My third and final point before I take up too much space is that perseverance is a whole lot easier if you are passionate about your chosen time consumer. Le Roux's philosophy is, "more than the finishing line" because to him ultraendurance is far more than just the race. He explains that you have to be intrinsically motivated to compete in these events or you will not survive the daily grinding we call training. The promise of a medal or trophy at the end of a race like this is not going to be enough to get you through the hours and hours of discomfort spent out on the road by yourself. "You have to be passionate about what you do and you have to be able to live in the moment to enjoy every second of the training as much as the race itself", explains Le Roux.
How many times have you joined a gym with the best of intentions to get fit and lose weight? How many of you quit going to that gym because you started to dread the monotony of doing something you do not enjoy and not getting the results you had hoped? How many of you have stumbled across a sport or activity that you love like wakeboarding, walking your dog, riding a horse, or riding a bike and realize as a side bonus you have shed some pounds? Enjoyment is the key. Perseverance basically means doing something again and again. Human nature is such that when we enjoy doing something we want to do it again and again until we don't enjoy it anymore. This reminds me of my two year old who finds something he likes to do and want to do it again and again and again.... Apparently we do not grow out of this phenomena we just, hopefully, learn better impulse control.


Find your passion. Try new activities and sports and you may surprise yourself. If you are unaccustomed to physical activity or have a medical condition always check with your doctor before trying something new. I sound like an advertisement for pharmaceuticals but this is important.


I wrote this article not with the intention of convincing you to grab your running shoes and head out the door, although if you do good for you. Instead, I wrote this with the hope that you might open your mind to the possibility that you too may achieve bragging rights by accomplishing feats that others are too scared to try.


If you choose to take that journey it will not be easy but it I guarantee, it will be worth it.
To read more about Le Roux's incredible journey and the accomplishments of this remarkable man check out his website: www.mikeleroux.com.au and offer some words of encouragement. This is a lonely road he has chosen and I am sure he could use our support.

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