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Mind Over Matter: When mental strength and physical ability clash


Posted by Jack A of Knowjack under Running, Weight Training (Strength Training) on 16 November 2013 at 12:00 AM

Where does the barrier between physical and mental strength lie? Tribesports' Jack decided to find out when he entered the 100km CCC Mont Blanc Ultra:

Jack runningThis time last year I decided I wanted to run an ultra marathon. I had just come back from supporting a friend on an ultra and I was hooked, the atmosphere, the route and the challenge was all too much for me to refuse. So I did it, I signed up – step 1.

Now it was time to start training. I came up with a plan, changed it a million times along the way but the outline was there – build my body to cope with running 100 km. I decided I didn’t want to commit to a traditional training plan consisting of miles and miles of running. I wanted to use my CrossFit training to build strength to cope with the rigours of running and then the miles I ran would be quality trail runs.

A big part of my training was mental preparation. I’m a big believer in mind over matter and that your body is always capable of more than your mind. I planned short intense workouts that I knew would be far more intense and harder than normal to have something to think back on when I run and tell myself “this isn’t as bad as that horrific workout”. One of the worst was a fun / disgusting mix of burpees, squat jumps and sprints in a weighted vest…a serious recipe for jelly legs.

I learnt a lot about my limits and my running grew from strength to strength. I thought about the race constantly, and really tried to get over the mental block of the 26.2 miles distance. That marathon distance is a serious mental barrier, one that you need to swiftly get your head around before running an ultra. For me this race was going to be 30% exercise and 70% mental so I couldn’t have concerns about distances, I had to forget about distance all together and just think of it as an adventure. After all if you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?!

In August this year I lined up on the start line, physically and mentally prepared. I could already picture myself at the finishing line and couldn’t wait to get started. The race was the toughest thing I’ve ever done but after an epic 24hrs and 28mins up and down mountains and through 3 countries I crossed the finishing line. I was wired, I couldn’t sleep and had to keep moving…well shuffling. I was already planning my next race. My mind was racing about what was next, what can I improve in my training. My mind was not listening to my body. Three days after the race I was back training and my motivation was higher than ever. My body however was broken. I pushed through workouts with horrible form, normal workouts / runs were exhausting and it was demoralising.

I didn’t listen to advice and was just thinking what can I do better, how can I run further and faster?

Eventually I cracked. I started having problems with my calves; they were beyond tight and just wouldn’t loosen. Then my knee started to hurt. I couldn’t believe what was happening, I’d gone from feeling invincible and smashing pb’s to everything falling apart. I started taking more rest days, toning back my training to focus on form over weight, I started consulting physios and - most importantly - started listening to the advice everyone was giving me. The first step was acupuncture, which really helped loosen my muscles and bring them back to normal. Then I started working on running form and muscle imbalances. Slowly it’s coming together. Slowly I’m getting back to full strength and then I can start getting faster and running further.

There’s a time and a place for mental strength but sometimes you just need to know when to listen to your body and ignore your mind. I thought that my mind's determination could out-do my body's limits, but that was - quite frankly - ridiculous.

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Good to hear you are on the mend, physically and emotionally, Jack. You will be even stronger after experiencing and enduring this. I can relate to the tight calf muscles, I suffer that when the miles are building, particularly when I trained for my debut marathon. I had dry needling into the calves, works a treat, mine were like concrete. I was on an emotional high for about 2 weeks after the marathon, then I think the exhaustion set in. It is so important to give the body a rest, try different forms of exercise, and just be kind to your body. I have been doing more Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates which is relaxing, uses different muscles, and just gives the legs a rest from pounding the pavement.


    Great article Jack. One often reads about the power of mind over matter (usually pain) but good to read a sensible point of view. I often feel with slight injuries I should just man-up and power through, the usual consequence being a worse injury and a longer lay off. I definately agree that form, balance and technique are vital to a long and injury free running life. Cheers mate


    I look forward to reading all about your next adventure Jack :)

    Jack A encouraged this.


    Jack! I ran it for the 4th time in a better time thanks to a constant listening to my body in training and in race thanks to #yogaxrunners ! Namastè


    Great little read and i love hearing about how people's resistance training helps them for 'the long stuff'. Lets not forget that hill training is just another form of resistance work. Although Jack- ' I’m a big believer in mind over matter and that your body is always capable of more than your mind." I think mind OVER matter means your mind makes your body work even when your body tells you it can't, the mind is capable of more then the body! ;) Whats your next race?


    CCC in 21 hrs and I am 50 years old

    Jack A encouraged this.


    Mind and body live together and must balance in the heart otherwise u get sick or u hurt yourself . #yogaxrunners yogaeans union in balance


    @maxw completely agree, the mind is definitely capable of pushing your body that much further but post race sometimes you just need to take a step back and recover! Still looking into races at the moment, possibly doing the Endurancelife CTS Dorset next month. Focusing on building strength for the moment and getting back into running before the next big challenge.


    @jack IM DOING THAT ONE!! Building for the UTSW next summer.

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