This summer’s Spartan Mountain Series is not for the faint-hearted or under-trained. Those who aim to take on the rugged trails and high altitudes would do well to include climbing strength and technical terrain skills in their current workouts.
But developing the ability to tackle the mountain does not just require training the body. The mind must be utilized too.
Timothy Olson knows this. An American ultra-runner and the two-time winner and record holder of Western States 100 Mile race, Olson has used mindset techniques in his training for many years, and credits this practice as a primary reason for his record-breaking Western States win.
He also leads Run Mindful Retreats in Boulder, Colorado, and other locations around the world. In them he guides everyday athletes to improve body awareness and build mindful coping mechanisms against the stress that often sucks the fun and energy out of regular racing.
“Mindfulness is strength training for the mind,” Olson says. Incorporating it into racing and running practice, “can help align your form, increase focus, ease anxiety and help you relax into your training to let the run flow.”
And the good thing is that while practice obviously brings better results, once you begin applying mindful techniques to your running you’ll see benefits quickly.
“Mindfulness is simply being in the present moment,” Olson explains. “And this awareness as you run, helps you to be more in tune with your surroundings, swiftly leaping over tree roots, keeping those toes up to avoid tripping over rocks and being poised to tackle whatever comes your way.”
So for contenders for the Spartan Mountain Series or any Spartan who wants to upgrade their race performance, Olson has some recommendations on how to stay in-the-moment and find success:
1. Set your intention
Olson suggests outlining an intention for each workout.
“Not every day can be crushing mountains,” he says, “even though it feels so good.”
Intention-setting focuses you on what it is you want to gain from your workouts and what you are capable of bringing to them. For while it’s crucial to stay consistent and progress training through hill repeats, you also need time to recover and gain strength.
“Establish your intention for each training session and for what right now, in the moment, will set your body and mind up for success,” he says.
2. Take a breather
Practicing breath and body awareness can help with the above intention setting as well as allowing you to “check in with yourself,” says Olson.
He recommends implementing breath awareness through meditation. For a seated meditation, sit with eyes closed and focus on your breath. Inhale deeply and slowly, before exhaling completely.
For those who feel antsy sitting still, Olson’s own Run Mindful app guides athletes through meditative warm ups and cool downs too.
It’s beneficial to practice meditation when you aren’t running, he says, so as to bolster your mental fitness during the tougher training days.
3. Take it to the trails
Of course, that doesn’t mean you stop being mindful when you lace up your shoes. Quite the opposite. Mindfulness enables you to maintain strength and focus while in running flow.
To start, Olson suggests bringing your awareness to the present moment, noting the sensations of your body moving through your surroundings. “Feel your body rise and fall with each breath, your feet connecting with the earth, the breeze on your skin,” he guides.
In long races or practice runs you can acknowledge minor discomforts and aches, but try not to train your full attention there.
“Let thoughts, feelings and emotions come and go. Once you notice you have been distracted, that’s being mindful; Re-place your attention back to the breath and foot strike and continue on being curious while appreciating your body and exploring the world around you.”
4. Don’t forget to smell the roses
Which brings Olson to an obvious point but one that is often overlooked when mindfulness is approached as a performance-enhancing tool alone: Savor the sights and sounds around you.
Indeed, it’s not just your body that you have to bring your awareness to, it’s also where your body is. One of the joys of being a Spartan or, indeed, any outdoor athlete, is the connection you experience to the natural environment.
Timothy Olson says it best: “Mindful running in the mountains and on trails helps you fully enjoy those awe-inspiring moments of the beautiful places your two feet and heart can bring you on your adventures all over the world.”
Want to get on the road to the mountaintop? Download The Mountain Series Training Plan as your blueprint. #noexcuses