When training for any competition, it’s important to understand how the mind can influence physical performance. First, you want to strive for the “ideal performance state,” which is the goal of every athlete. In this state, you do not use negative self-talk, you have a strong feeling of efficacy (confidence in exercise ability), and an adaptive focus on the task-relevant cues (performing when it counts). The ideal performance state consists of the following characteristics:
1. Absence of fear – especially the fear of failure
2. Not thinking about or analyzing performance – reliance on trained motor patterns
3. Narrowing of focus on the activity you’re performing
4. A sense of effortlessness – creating an involuntary experience
5. A sense of personal control
6. Distortion of time and space – time seems to slow down, which may be attributed to our eyes seeing more frames per second, allowing us to respond or react with greater precision
The ultimate goal for the athlete is to be confident in their abilities and “just let it happen.” Walter Payton, one of the greatest running backs of all time, said: “I’m Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to football. When I’m on the field, sometimes I don’t know what I am doing out there. People ask me about this move or that move, but I don’t know why I did something. I just did it. I am able to focus out the negative things around me and just zero in on what I am doing out there. Off the field I become myself again.”
The notion of motor skill learning consists of 3 stages through which the athlete progresses:
1. The cognitive stage - the effortful and conscious regulation of the movement.
2. The associative stage - the athlete has to focus on the task, but they’re less concerned about the details of the movement.
3. The third stage is automaticity - the mind is relaxed and the skill is performed automatically without thinking. With proper instruction and training, the relaxed mind filters out all irrelevant cues and focuses only on what is relevant to the task required of the athlete.
The concept of the “ideal performance state” directly relates to how you perform in the Beast on the Bay. Most people might be hesitant about embarking on a 10-mile obstacle course on the sand. It is the desire to challenge yourself physically and mentally that sets you apart from the rest of the world that is satisfied with the status quo. Invest yourself in your training and in proper instruction and you will reach your goal in completing the Beast on the Bay. When you come upon an obstacle, you will “just let it happen” and rely on your training and ability in successfully completing each obstacle and stretch of running.