By their nature, endurance sports are not easy. That’s because the algorithm is limitless. The fitter you get, the harder you go. So it never really feels like any of this gets easier.
But it can look easier for others. And that’s a discouraging thing when you’re struggling to get faster or go longer. How (and why) do other people seem to make it look so easy?
That’s when you can start to feel discouraged.
To feel discouraged is defined as: “having lost confidence or enthusiasm; disheartened.”
Yet it helps to go a bit deeper than that to understand what discouragement is all about. So consider the root word buried in discouragement. That would be “courage,” which is defined as: the ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain or grief.”
A friend who is a triathlete, a coach, a Liv cycling ambassador and a massage therapist recently wrote about her experience in doing a 120+ mile bike ride in conditions that were downright nasty. She was alone out there on the bike, and wet and cold. The winds were fierce, so she decided to ride straight into the headwind and get the worst part of the ride over.
It was beyond difficult. She may literally have cried at one point. Sometimes it can be hard to separate the sweat from the tears. But Sarah kept telling herself to focus on the near object. That was turning the pedals. Keep the momentum going.
Perhaps you don’t push yourself that hard. Maybe you just wish your six-mile run would not feel like shit. Well, that’s fair. You have a right to want to not feel shit. But there are no guarantees. If run after run feels like shit, that shit can get discouraging.
Hammer that shit
But you know something? the word “shit” has become a positive in this day and age. If something is “the shit” that’s a bit different than when something is just plain shit. And if you give yourself some credit in the moment of your worst discouragement, you can turn plain old “shit” into “isn’t this the shit?”
For example, I rode with two strong triathlete cyclists this weekend. They were on their tri-bikes and I was on a road bike. So everything was fine while we were humping along protected roads. But out in the open wind, my position on the bike was not ideal for efficiency. Even down in the drops, I’m not as aero as a true triathlete on their bike. If you give away even 5% efficiency in a hard wind, it’s easy to pop.
Which is discouraging, because you know deep down inside your head that moment’s going to come. But for fifteen miles I tucked and drafted and rode down in the drops and made it all the way to the turn north into a crosswind. Then I had to admit that it was either back off or pop completely.
So I waved the second rider ahead and said I’d catch up with them at the Casey’s out in Bumblefuck. There’s always a Casey’s out in Bumblefuck. That’s where Casey’s makes its case to the world.
It fades away
We stopped a few minutes and then headed east with a partial tailwind that sometimes turned into a crosswind. I did not let the earlier discouragement ruin this part of the ride. I even pulled for half a mile.
Then we did a couple long climbs and headed south, into the wind. And before long I was lagging and let them go.
Sure, I got mad at not being able to keep up. Mad is different than discouraged. Discouragement is not a healthy state of mind, but mad turns you irrational. It’s easy to start hating the people with whom you’re riding. But let’s get real. It’s not their fucking fault that they’re fitter than you and able to ride faster. It’s your own problem. It simple does not do you any good to project your problems onto other people. They don’t like it, and frankly, it is far more discouraging to think that someone else holds your fate in their hands.
In other words, you’re free to choose how you respond to a discouraging day. Sarah Farsalas did it by thinking of the greater goal that awaited her. She was focused on an upcoming Half Ironman. And she did great in the race, cranking along for more than 50 miles at 20+ mph. She even ran the half-marathon with a hinchy foot.
Discouragement simply means losing the courage to try. Even if you’re having a bad day and feeling discouraged, it is possible to muster courage and do what you can do in that moment. That’s real courage. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get through a particularly discouraging workout.
So think about courage as being incremental. Summon what you need. Don’t go for the grandiose or expect that you’ll suddenly catch that group of cyclists up the road that just dropped you. Focus in on that pedal stroke. Get back to that cadence. Pay attention to that running or swimming form. Go back to basics. It is the most encouraging thing in the world sometimes to rest on familiarity even when you’re stressing your body and mind beyond what you think they can take.
What to do when you’re feeling discouraged? Take hold of the courage to try. Pretend that running up that long slow incline is actually running downhill. Play tricks with your mind and do not succumb to the bland reality that you want to quit. Sure you do. We all want to quit at times.
But it’s the not quitting that takes a small dose of courage. You have it in you. You really do.