Mental Toughness: It Will End

When you exercise, you should be constantly pushing yourself to develop mental toughness because overcoming it will help you prepare you for any surprises life may suddenly throw at you. Mental toughness is the ability to cope with difficult situations and is not just limited to exercise but also the ability to rise from harsh situations such as poverty or child abuse. I can’t think of one word to describe mental toughness but it is variety of factors including pain tolerance, attitude, discipline… a state of mind.

Here is a great quote I found on Wikipedia:

Mental Toughness is all about improving your mind so that it’s always on your side; not sometimes helping you nor working against you as we all know it’s quite capable of doing.

Tough workouts develop mental toughness because your body needs pain to know pain and to be able to push past the pain. Our bodies are made for survival and the more we push it, the more we will adapt. To me, exercise is 20% physical and 80% mental. How long you will last depends on how much pain you can handle. How much pain you can handle depends on your mental toughness.

Last weekend when I was climbing Mount Baker, I went through one of the biggest wars against my brain and I almost lost. I don’t think I’ve ever told my brain to “shut the fuck up” as many times as I did during that ride. I take pride in saying that when I usually go into hard workouts, I’ve always had the “let’s do this” mentality but for the first time ever (okay, well since I started this journey 4 years ago), as soon as we got to the base of Mount Baker, it already seemed impossible. I felt despair, hopelessness and just plain tired.

But guess what? I ended up making it to the top. My physical ability was not the issue but my mind was just not into it. When I got into the groove, I was easily spinning up but whenever any negative thought popped into my head (eg. “omigod. this climb is never going to end”), my performance was always effected— and it did constantly. I remember some of the past climbs I’ve done like up to Cypress or Seymour, I never doubted my ability and rarely did a negative thought cross my mind. Those climbs were enjoyable— no doubt, hard but enjoyable.

Our bodies react to how we think and if we can train our mindset to know how to push past the pain, we can achieve anything. One thing that helped me finish the Mount Baker climb was knowing and reminding myself that it will end which brings me back to this quote that has helped me countless times:

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.

So next time you are in so much pain you want to curl up and cry, just remind yourself that…

IT WILL END.

Last Stretch on Mt. Baker | Artist Point

This is me just a couple hundred meters to the top of Mt. Baker. A couple kilometers back, I was dying and almost gave up but I somehow mustered up enough energy to sprint to the top after the last switchback. I remember what was going through my mind at this exact moment: “the end is finally here!!”

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    Omigod, Mt. Baker.

    Yesterday, I finally got to cycle up Mount Baker in Washington. I signed up for this ride 3 months ago and have been counting the days ever since and I have to admit, I grossly underestimated the ride. Kind of like how I went to Warrior Dash not knowing what it was. I have a habit of doing things without much thinking or researching but I guess what I don’t know is always the best or I would’ve been anxious before the ride instead of extremely excited.

    How to describe the 160km and 2000m+ elevation of our Mt. Baker ride: epic, stunning, relentless… omigod.

    Mt. Baker Climb We started in Abbotsford, BC and our destination was Artist Point at the top of Mt. Baker. The climb itself to Artist Point isn’t super long or super steep but when you are already tired from a week’s worth of hard workouts and intense Leg Day 2 days before the ride, 3 hours of sleep the night before and dehydrated and tired from the speedy and hilly ride from our starting point to “where the climb began” …made the climb relentless. Typical me, I totally treated this like a “normal weekend ride” and forgot to taper off my workouts. Oops.

    Caroline, who did the ride last weekend, described it really well so instead, I am going to mindlessly write about what was going through my mind the entire trip. During rides like this, I’m usually too tired to converse so the only thing to do is talk to myself, argue with my brain and entertain myself with random thoughts.

    • [5:45am] Alarm goes off, jumps out of bed:“fuck yeah, Mt. Baker today!!” I never get out of bed that fast unless it’s for morning workouts.
    • [Driving to the meeting area at the Tim Horton's parking lot] Omigod. It’s raining. I forgot to bring my shell.” The weather turned out to be perfect and not too hot either. Although I was still worried about tan lines.
    • [7:50am] Arrive at Tim Hortons parking lot in Abbotsford: “OMIGOD. I didn’t put our passports in the bag!!” It turned out to be at the bottom of the bag under the leftover pizza and quinoa salad I packed.
    • [Reese Hill] “Must take it easy up this hill … must keep up with the guys … must take it easy … no, can’t be last!!” I have no discipline whatsoever considering these guys are probably way more fit than me.
    • [Somewhere along the way to Mt. Baker] While taking my turn pulling in a paceline, I set a goal and wanted to pull 5k: “Should I slow down … no these guys are speedy … not tired … not tired.” Later they said I was pulling too fast but no one looked like they were dying. Deceiving fit people!! The problem with us is that no one is willing to admit being tired so we just keep pushing and pushing even though we agreed to “pace ourselves.” LOL.
    • [Arriving at the point where the climb really began for the next 40km] “Sweet… rolling hills! I’m going to so take advantage of all these downhills” while naively thinking this was what most of the climb was going to be like. Cycling | iFuckingLoveFitness.com Last time I saw these super speedy people before we all broke off to silently suffer at our own pace.
    • [Hills, rolling hills and more hills]. “Omigod, tired. Legs not cooperating.” Should’ve stayed disciplined in the beginning. No one to blame but myself.
    • [Crosses a bridge] Someone says… now the real climb begins. 16km straight up to the top. “Fuck. My. Life. No wonder we didn’t seem to be going uphill.”
    • [About 1km into the climb] “I’m not tired. I’m not tired. I’m not tired.” I was so tired.
    • [Sports cars with annoyingly loud engines racing up to the top for their meet ups] “I hope I’m not coming down the same time as them…” These wreckless people. But then cycling up there is pretty reckless as well.
    • [3km into climb] “Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.” There was a wasp hovering around my left hand for like 15 minutes!!! I was trying to stay calm because panicking is a waste of energy. I am afraid of creepy crawlies.
    • [5k into climb] “Must … not … stop. Nevermind, stopping.” Stretched, downed a Cliff bar and drank half a bottle of water. I needed that really bad!
    • [6km into climb] “Yay, my sinuses love Washington air!!” I was actually able to breath properly through my nose the entire way up which made climbing so much easier. If I tried to do that in Vancouver, my stuffed up nose won’t let any air in and if I tried to exhale, snot will just come flying out.
    • [7km into climb] “I want pizza. Really bad.” But boyfriend had it in his backpack and we were separated. I was so sad.
    • [8km into climb] “Omigod. Running out of water.”
    • [Couple minutes later] I asked my friend if we were even halfway yet (I was estimating the kilometers because I forgot to lap my Garmin so I wasn’t too sure how far we were into the climb). He said not yet, we still have the equivalent of Mt. Seymour to do. I just sighed.
    • [9km into climb] “Omigod. My hamstrings and IT band are sooooo tight.” This was when I was mentally picturing my ITB pulling my knee cap out of it’s socket. But seriously, my right leg muscles were so tight and I felt it getting tighter and tighter every meter I climbed. I knew something bad would come out of it too but there was no turning back,
    • [2 minutes later] “Must stop to stretch … no, cannot lose momentum … must stop … noooo, beastmode!!!” I ended up stopping twice to stretch after that because I didn’t want to screw up my knees which was beginning to feel really uncomfortable …but very hesitantly because I hate stopping while climbing or I lose momentum. I was totally in the zone and was spinning up comfortably too. Boo. That’s what I get for slacking off with my stretches the last couple of weeks.
    • [Sometime later again] Some guy zooms right by me cycling at an amazingly high cadence and I thought jealously, “I wonder if he’s on drugs.” No, he’s probably just a beast (unlike me).
    • Cycling Up Mount Baker, Washington

      This photo DOES NOT do the view justice because I took it while moving on my bike. You can’t see the valley below and the glaciers that didn’t make it into the picture.

      [Road opens up to this GORGEOUS view] “Omigod. Sooo pretty!! Must stop to take a picture… no… can’t stop, won’t stop!!” I ended up taking pictures while still moving so none of them turned out good.

    • [9.5km into climb] “Hmmmm… how should I blog about this ride?” Having a blog is awesome because it distracts me from my sufferfest and I was drafting this entry in my head during the climb.
    • [10km into climb] Sucking up my pride: “Okay, I’m going to ask that nice looking family for water.” I got 2 bottles this way. People are always willing to help so don’t be afraid to ask. I wasn’t. I wanted water okay.
    • [Next couple kilometers] “Yay, this is so easy!” I felt so refreshed and confident knowing that my waterbottles were full. It’s all in your head!!
    • [Arriving at Heather Meadows Lodge where the speedy people were waiting for us slow people to regroup] “Is this the top? Is this the top? Nooooo it’s not the top.”
    • [Last 4km up to Artist Point] “Bonking. Bonking. Not going to make it. I’m going to die.” This was the hardest stretch of the climb. I was totally fine at Heather Lodge then I started to get dizzy and could barely keep my eyes open when we started climbing again!! I ended up stopping 3 times to gobble Cliff bars because I thought I was going to fall over a cliff. The grade wasn’t actually too bad but I was still losing the fight.
    • [Looks up and see the last switch back] “This is crazy. Why the fuck am I here.” This is when I totally hit the wall… hard and wanted to get off my bike and cry. Switch backs are usually fine because they are usually covered by trees but this one was looming right in front of me, on top of a sky high cliff and that was the icing on the cake that caused me to collapse mentally. THEN. Some cyclist screams, “good job… you’re almost there!!” as his voice faded away with his fast descent down the mountain.  That was the push I needed because my mentality totally turned around, I scarfed down the last half of my bar, told my brain to shut up and pushed to the top. It also helped that another cyclist stopped with me and encouraged me to keep going! Simple gestures usually mean the most.
    • [Arrives at Artist Point] I say, “I’m never doing this climb again.” Someone responds, “oh you know you’re going to do it again.”
    • [While descending Mt. Baker] “Omigod. I’m totally going to do this climb again!!” Cycling is a funny sport. You die while climbing or riding hard but you forget the pain 100% when your heart rate gets to normal. That’s what makes it so addicting.
    • [During the descend] “Omigod. I don’t want to go up those rolling hills that I took advantage of while going down.”
    • [2 seconds later] Bee crashes into my face and probably died because it hurt like hell. I never knew bug and face contact during descents at freakishly high speeds could be that painful and I even got to experience it 2 more times during that descent. Yay me.
    • Strava | Mount Baker Ride

      Pretty Strava map.

      [About 10km to go to Glacier] “Noooooooo….. knee pain!!” My knees started throbbing and I started picturing my ITB pulling my knees again (thanks Mr. Physio) but I knew there wasn’t anything I can do about it because we were about 90km of rolling hills to our car so I just stayed in the back and sucked it up.

    • [At some restaurant in Glacier] “I wonder if it will be rude if I ate my quinoa salad in here.” I did it anyway… can’t let my precious quinoa go to waste!
    • [Right after leaving the restaurant] “OMIGOD. I forgot to apply sunscreen on my face. Sunglass tan… Nooooo.” But I was too lazy to stop.
    • [During the 40km trek back to the Sumas border] “Yay knees don’t hurt as much anymore!” I actually ended pushing myself the rest of the way home because throbbing knees got downgraded to annoying knee after a ton of stretching and massaging at the restaurant… plus I was totally re-fueled and energized after lunch and a lot of stretching.
    • [Tim Hortons parking lot coming into sight] “Iced Coffee. Nap in car. Shower. Stretch. Eat Watermelon. Upload to Strava while icing knee.” I was really looking forward to my plans for the next couple of hours.

    I kept my heart rate in the 160′s so the climb was pretty easy physically but I almost lost it mentally. Your mind is always your biggest opponent when doing any type of physical activity and I’m usually pretty good at fighting but I just didn’t have it in me that day. I think the climb would’ve been a lot easier if I wasn’t worried about my knee or if I didn’t push myself too hard in the beginning but that’s how you live and learn.  I’ve also NEVER bonked before so it was a terrible feeling and even though I thought I fueled and hydrated pretty well … I guess I wasn’t. I am just going to blame my brain just because. Nevertheless, the ride was a humbling experience and awesomely grueling— I can’t wait to go through this massive sufferfest again!

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