By Spartan SGX Coach Mark Barroso, NSCA-CPT
A Spartan Race isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. So what motivates people to sign up for their first Spartan Race, or for veteran Spartan Racers to continue to push themselves? The answer may be different for everyone, but one thing is for sure: if you don’t have motivation, you can get it.
That’s right. There are ways to tap into your own intrinsic mental determination and perform your best.
Sports psychologists and mental game coaches are the norm in professional sports, but you don’t hear much about them in obstacle course racing. Nevertheless, elite Spartan athletes use mental training coaches to achieve heightened alertness, unbounded motivation, less anxiety, and a better understanding of the course itself through visualization. After all, a strong body is nothing without a strong mind.
To tap into the powerful lessons of mental training, we reached out to Shayne McGowan, Certified Mental Game Coach and Performance Coach at Mental Edge Performance, to find out how Spartans can fine tune their minds to the max.
Follow these five expert mental motivational strategies to shut down self-doubt and get ready for your next challenge.
Set a Goal and Visualize Success.
Everyone has a reason for signing up for a Spartan Race, and everyone has a goal. Once you’ve decided to sign up for a race, decide your goal. Is your goal to finish in the top 50, or is it just to finish? No matter your goal, McGowan says it’s essential to picture success in your mind.
“When it comes to goals you also have to visualize yourself during the race and where you will be during the course,” McGowan says. “The more you can imagine what the course will be like, the less shock you’ll be in if something unexpected comes up. When I have athletes visualize, they look at every possible worst and best case scenario throughout the competition.”
A bad scenario example for a swimmer would be losing their goggles. In Spartan Race, a hill that is unexpectedly steep can throw some athletes off their game if they haven’t mentally prepared for it. McGowan says envisioning a scenario like this plays a big part in completing the task at hand.
Let’s say you’re halfway through a Spartan SGX training program and you’ve hit a plateau or dip in motivation to continue training for your upcoming Spartan Race. This is where positive thinking makes all the difference.
“As soon as you put any ounce of negative thoughts and self-doubt in your head, you’ve altered your confidence,” says McGowan. “If you look at professional goaltenders in the NHL, why do they talk to themselves so much? Why do runners talk to themselves so much on the course? It’s that positive affirmation where they tell themselves that they can do the thing.”
One example of positive self-talk is waking up in the morning and saying out aloud to yourself, ‘Today, I’m going to have a great day.’ Is it true? Doesn’t matter. But just saying it makes it more likely to happen.
At the start line:
Use your nerves to your advantage.
So you’ve completed your training and now you’re at the start line. All of a sudden, you start to get butterflies in your stomach, a fear of failure, and you think, ‘Why did I do this?’ Well, that’s when you look back at your training and tell yourself, “I trained this hard to be here.”
“Tell yourself at the start line, ‘How many people will come out and do this? I’m the person doing this.’” McGowan says. “Don’t make nervousness into a negative thing; use that to your advantage because the excitement of competing is probably the main reason you’re at the start line.’”
During the race:
RESET, REFOCUS, REGROUP.
Veteran Spartans might have off-days where they aren’t performing as well as they expected. McGowan has sound advice for these folks when their legs start to cramp or they’re just trudging through the course unusually lethargic.
“Say to yourself, ‘I’ve raced X amount of times now so I’m mentally tough and I can fight through the pain,’” McGowan. “’My time might not be as good as I want it to be but I’m going to fight through it because I’ve done this before.’”
If you’re a first-time Spartan, you’ll face your fair share of mental and physical blocks as well.
“For the new person just getting into it, tell yourself, ‘I’m going to finish this even if I come in last because I’m going to prove that I can do it,’” McGowan says. “My legs are numb but my brain is strong so I’m going to get through this. Your body will quit before your mind will and that’s what you need to keep reminding yourself of.”
Stay involved in the community.
What makes Spartan Race a unique sport is the welcoming community. Elite athletes and first-time racers intermingle before and after races in a way not seen in other professional sports. The fact that you continue seeing the same people at Spartan Races makes you a part of the Spartan family; and besides, there’s always someone just a Facebook or Instagram message away to discuss training, life, and traveling to the Spartan Race. Everyone signs up for their second, tenth, thirtieth, or fiftieth race for a reason, and it’s important to remember the value of this community. Here’s what McGowan has to say:
“Whether you race as an individual or on a team, you’re part of the Spartan community; and you might enjoy that because you’re meeting new people, getting fresh ideas and learning new tricks,” McGowan says. “When you’re at the race, you’re discussing things like, ‘Have you heard about this? How did you do?’ It’s your sport; be an active part of the community.”
To be more involved, simply reach out to people who catch your attention, in person and online. Ask questions that you may have about races. Take a Spartan SGX class or attend a Spartan Workout Tour. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“Spartan Race has taken off, and it’s something you want to be a part of,” McGowan says. “If you feel you’re athletic and that you can mingle and be part of something great, why not just take the shot and go out there again?”