#113 – the 12 phases of ultra-endurance psychology

I’m hoping for leg warmers this year

 Most every athlete knows that training goes in phases, or “periods” if you want to tip the cap to the eastern-block origins of “periodization” in sport…..and where on the professional side we typically refer to these with a thick layer of jargon, I like to keep myself grounded with a bit of a normalized translation.  Since the training cycle is, well, cyclical (duh) you can start from any “phase” and work around…..but since for me, our story always starts with fat & happy…..let’s start there:

Phase I – the fat and happy phase:  This is everyone’s favorite phase – because you get to forget about how hard training really is.  This phase is marked by reminiscing about the last glory….which although is never quite as bad as it seemed at the time, is never quite as good as it feels looking back on it during “Fat & Happy”.  This phase is also where nutrition habits tend to suffer (hence the “fat”) and the body has a chance to recover and repair from the last story-worthy (albeit often of questionable judgment) adventure.

Phase II – the enlightenment: This is probably the worst phase (in my opinion) because it’s when you realize what fat and happy have collectively done…..you realize that the decline in exercise has caught up with you (circumferentially speaking)…..and it’s usually when “happy” decides to try being a solo-act and leaves.  This is also a tricky time because now “fat” needs a new partner…..and usually the first to come to audition is “slightly-depressed”.  However if you can avoid that wise-ass, you can usually expect “wishy-washy” to stop by, followed by “it’s time to get serious” followed by “alright, I’m ready” followed by “let’s get organized” and finally followed by “let’s get physical”.

Phase III – the pain of change phase: If you can finally get “fat” to hook-up with “let’s get physical” then your on your way……although still, shall we say, not in tip-top form……but that’s OK, because that’s what phase III is all about…..paying the price (usually in the currency of pain and soreness) to open the windows, let the stale-air out and the light in.  You of course know those are good things and it feels good to get moving again….when you’re moving that is.  It also feels tight, sore and reluctant to move when you’re not….but after a few weeks, you might even start to notice some improvement as “let’s get physical” starts to call the shots.  You’re not there yet…..I mean “fat” is still hanging around, but he seems to be more focused now.

Phase IV – the “get busy living or get busy dying” phase: This is the phase of reckoning for “fat”, where “let’s get physical” decides to confront the situation.  It’s not always an easy confrontation, but it always happens…..see “fat” has a definite job…..and you need what it brings to the table…..but you realize now that it has to be on your terms if happy is ever going to rejoin the group.  The best part of this phase is that all of the “let’s get physical” has helped you to hone your willpower and with a little effort, usually fat (the sloppy house guest) can now become fat the incredibly important source of energy.

Phase V – the “gentleman we can rebuild him” phase: Phase V is the first “promised land” phase….because now you’re believing in you again.  You’re beginning to see the fruits of your labor and your training has become part of your routine.  The goal of course is for this to be the longest phase, because this is where improvement really happens.  The big risk here though is that life does indeed get in the way……and it’s so easy to never quite get to the Phase V shoreline (or to be blown back into the ocean by a stiff wind).  You can see the lighthouse beacon right in front of you, but the current just seems to be insurmountable. So many weekend-warriors get stuck in this no-man-land….. If however you can get safely to shore, which of course is marked by training consistency more than anything, you will have good stories to tell when you’re back at Fat & Happy.  If not, you run the risk of taking a wrong turn and winding up in “fat and miserable”.  KEEP OUT!

Phase VI – the “kicking ass and taking names” phase: this is the second “promised land” phase….and it’s even better than the first.  Not many get here, but when you have even once, you always want to get back.  You’re breaking new ground, surprising even yourself, and realizing how shortsighted the limits you previously set for yourself really were.  The unfortunate part of this phase is that it can be very very short.  Savor it.

Phase VII – the “warrior” phase: this phase is marked by some anxiety and some fear….but ultimately it’s a moment to shine.  You’ve done the training, you haven’t seen fat & happy in a while…..but you’re now steely & focused.  It’s a game of mental focus now…. Hopefully by now you’ve done plenty of prep-tests and you know what to expect….the question is can you find that sweetspot between focused and relaxed.

Phase VIII – the “doubter” phase: at some point, usually when you’re past the point of no return, you wonder if you can actually do this.  You talk (sometimes out loud) to yourself and conclude you can.  You squash the doubter and move on.

Phase IX – the “high”: usually shortly after you cross the finish line of the big-race and realize you’re going to be OK, you settle into the glory of it.  Months have gone into the making of this moment……and although it never ever turns out exactly like planned, you know you laid it out there….that you committed and pulled through….and it feels good.

Phase X – the “low”: soon enough after the high comes the low.  It’s marked by I “should-a” and I “could-a” and there’s plenty of inventory taking of the other phases.  If your team is strong, they pull you out of this quickly.

Phase XI – the R-cubed phase (Rehab, Rest, Recover): You’ve pushed yourself, hopefully not to an injury, but maybe closer than you should have……and it’s time to get whole again….not only physically, but with your relationships and the world around you.  You spend time…..because you can and you have it……and it feels good.  The training routine is still such a strong habit that sometimes you have to tell yourself it’s OK not to train….that taking time off is part of recharging……that getting a little fat & happy is part of the cycle……and that it will take an enormous amount of energy to complete the cycle again….so live it up while you can.

Phase XII – the “what-if” phase: that’s right – “do the cycle again” – because even though at every single phase from 5 through 10 you told yourself you wouldn’t, you’re still in great shape, you just reached many objectives (if not the entire goal) and you start day dreaming.  This is such a fun phase because your dreams never seemed closer and more doable……you start scheming…..while you’re fattening up…..it’s a happy time.

As for me – I’m late stage 3 – “I mean, fat is still hanging around…..but he’s a lot more focused”.

Gettin’ busy living,

Mike E.