If you think of a Spartan race, or an Air Force Special Warfare military operation, the first thing that comes to mind is the physical challenge. And for good reason. Whether you’re throwing a 75-pound ball over your shoulder, running a half-marathon on single track, or rucking through the forest hauling heavy gear, it takes a significant fitness level to dominate and destroy these obstacles. That’s why only the elites have what it takes to become a world-class Spartan athlete or a Special Warfare operator. But what makes them capable to perform under pressure is not only high-intensity training, but also intentional development of mental stamina as well.
Why Mental Training is Just As Important As Fitness
Special Warfare operators are asked to do the impossible. So, the grit and fortitude it takes to gear up and risk their lives every day must match the physical demands required to accomplish the task. To do that, the U.S. Air Force pays special attention to fostering resilience throughout the training process. In addition to specialized strength and conditioning coaches, the Air Force also employs a psychiatrist to mentally prepare operators for missions and high-pressure situations.
“It is inevitable that sometime in your career you will hit a wall,” said Special Warfare operator, TSgt Tomes. “What you do when you hit that threshold depends on how many times you’ve faced it. If you’re training for Special Warfare, Spartan races will undoubtedly give you a personal relationship with that barricade and give you the ability to smash through any life obstacles, physical and mental. Remember that you will never ride to the occasion, you will only fall back to your training.”
When training for a Spartan race or to become a Special Warfare operator, inevitably there comes a time when you think you can’t push through: when, in your mind, you’ve got nothing left in the tank. That’s when the mental strength comes in to push forward and hit the finish line. Your mind will take you further than your body ever will.
Discover and Test Your “Why”
Every Spartan athlete has different strengths. Some are physically stronger than others, some are faster or have a higher endurance threshold. In Air Force Special Warfare, not all trainees are the same either. But everyone has their own “why”. Why do they get out of bed every morning before dawn to train? Why do they endure the elements or sacrifice certain comforts to be better than the next competitor? Why do they risk their lives to save another? The answer is never physical. It always lies someplace deeper.
To discover your why, and more importantly to put yourself to the test, you must face a worthy adversary, like a slew of obstacles that push you out of your comfort zone. Or, in the case of Special Warfare, water is perhaps the greatest obstacle and the greatest equalizer.
When you’re submerged, fighting for every breath, it helps train your brain to focus and push through your own perceived limits. It gives you the skills necessary to survive when your surroundings are utterly chaotic. Water is the best way to simulate the stress and anxiety of combat, which is why it’s an important tool to strengthen mental toughness.
All told, only the bravest, most resilient athletes who work equally hard to foster mental grit will dominate the battle from the course to the field, and beyond. So don’t skimp on your mental training—it could just make the difference between a DNF and crushing the finish line, or between life and death on the battlefield.