Channel takes mental health and well-being for all employees very seriously. We’ve had the pleasure of working with Jaimie Shires of Uplift Mental Health, who has delivered a comprehensive plan to foster greater mental health during the pandemic to all staff members. Through one-on-one sessions and Brown Bag Lunch presentations, Jaimie has taught techniques to find motivation, learn how to de-stress, set realistic goals and much more!
Jaimie has kindly given permission for Channel to share her research and latest article on endurance and motivation.
What ultrarunners can teach us about endurance and motivation.
By: Jaimie Shires
(5 minute read)
The longevity of this Covid-19 crisis is beginning to take its toll. Many businesses are struggling to survive. Our normal means of relating to one another have drastically altered. The novelty, change and uncertainty of this experience has most people tired and fed up.
As I write this, a second strain of the virus is on the rise in the UK. The government response has been a second national lockdown for an undefined period of time.
“When will this end?” I can’t help but think. I, like many, am beginning to feel the mental strain of this ongoing ordeal.
It’s easy to compare what we are going through to the latter stages of a marathon -when energy levels are depleted, the body is physically fatigued and the mind is focused on the obstacles. For many, staying positive and optimistic is getting harder.
This got me thinking. “How do endurance athletes keep going when they hit “the wall”? And what can they teach us about at this stage of the crisis?”
To answer this question I looked to the elite athletes of ultramarathons who cover great distances ranging from 50km (31 miles) to 3,000 miles or more. These runners face a multitude of trials that include harsh weather conditions, changing terrains and physical pain. However, the biggest challenge they have to contend with is their mind.
What motivates these runners in the face of such hardships?
One study compared the motivation characteristics of ultramarathon runners to shorter distance marathon runners to determine if there were any differences. Interestingly, the ultramarathoners were more motivated by the life meaning the sport gave them and their personal relationships rather than the personal goal achievement, recognition or self-esteem motivators of their counterparts.
It seems then that these athletes choose to overcome the physical and mental tribulations for a greater purpose and the deep satisfaction it brings them.
In another study, it was found that the main motivating factors for women ultra-runners was their inner drive and self-discipline. These women were task-oriented and internally motivated -they were determined to overcome obstacles and to finish the race for the sense of achievement it gave them, rather than for competitive reasons.
So how can we apply this to the Covid-marathon we all find ourselves in? What can we learn from these elite athletes in the face of on-going and strenuous challenges?
I think that ultra-marathon runners engage in this extreme sport for the satisfaction of discovering inner-power: the perseverance, determination and sense of purpose that drives them to achieve the impossible.
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) article on building resilience confirms that certain factors foster inner fortitude such as finding a sense of meaning & purpose, developing healthy thought patterns and seeking support. However, overcoming adversity requires something more.
Research has found that ultra-runners have an increased capacity to tolerate pain. These runners are not deterred by the physical or mental discomfort they must put up with – instead, they view the suffering as a natural part of the challenge. For them, the gratification comes from transcending those barriers.
This was an eye opener for me. Perhaps I need to rethink my attitude to discomfort? Maybe I need to see tolerating discomfort as part of the achievement process?
The words of Mahatma Ghandi suddenly come to mind,
“Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph: a beginning, a struggle, and a victory.”
I can honestly say that I have learned a lot from ultra-marathon runners. I have come to understand the optimal mental and emotional conditions needed to endure and transcend difficult situations, such as this Corona Virus pandemic.
Here are my tips on How to Develop Endurance:
First, we must evaluate our attitude toward change and challenges. Do we perceive adversity, trauma and stress as solely negative? Or is it possible for us to see these as opportunities for developing inner strength and personal skills?
It is also important to consider how we react to change and challenges. Do we resist them? Or can we come to accept those things that are out of our control? Acceptance is the key to healing and moving forward positively.
Lastly, we must learn to see pain and suffering as part of a “birthing” process. It is part of the process of change. Sometimes difficult experiences highlight our outdated beliefs, inaccurate perceptions or self-imposed limitations. Often, it is painful coming to these realisations and pushing past our comfort zones. However, it necessary we face difficult truths and experiences in order to expand our self-perceptions and “discover the power within”.
We all possess a set of beliefs that guide our attitudes, morality and actions. Our values are the “motive behind purposeful action”; they help us determine what matters to us.
When we are clear about what we value, it is easy to find the meaning and purpose in what we do. For this reason, it is useful to list the qualities, characteristics and skills we deem important. For example, we may find it easier to endure hardships when we positively anticipate the sense of achievement and increased self-confidence we undoubtedly will experience.
We have all heard the statement, “It’s all in the mind”. How true this is.
Our experiences are determined by the lens through which we see things. In other words, our perspective determines the quality of our emotional experience.
If we perceive an experience as negative, detrimental and painful, we are likely to resist it and struggle to make sense of it. In contrast, perceiving a major life change as an unwanted but necessary part of life can provide us with some positives and enable us to process and tolerate difficult emotions with greater ease.
For this reason, broadening our perspective is a necessary tool in developing mental resilience. Learning to be hopeful and optimistic is extremely self-soothing and beneficial.
Another necessary tool is learning to develop a positive inner-voice. The things we say to ourselves and the tone with which we speak to ourselves significantly impacts our response to situations. For example, it is much easier to face difficulties when we say reassuring things to ourselves such as, “It’s going to be ok. I am capable of adapting to change. I’ve done it before”.
Developing self-talk takes practice. So, it might be helpful to write down some of the more habitual and less-encouraging statements we tell ourselves and counteract these with more empowering statements.
Mental and emotional endurance requires a mind-set of self-care: knowing when we are in distress or feeling depleted and in need of support. It is essential to our wellbeing that we learn to open up to those we trust.
A problem shared, really is a problem halved. And speaking to someone who cares about us reminds us that we are not alone. Knowing this helps us find that inner-strength or that final push we need to get to the finish line.
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1. Waśkiewicz Z, Nikolaidis PT, Chalabaev A, Rosemann T, Knechtle B. Motivation in ultra-marathon runners. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2018 Dec 27;12:31-37. doi: 10.2147/PRBM.S189061. PMID: 30643473; PMCID: PMC6311328.
2. Krouse, Rhonna & Ransdell, Lynda & Lucas, Shelley & Pritchard, Mary. (2011). Motivation, Goal Orientation, Coaching, and Training Habits of Women Ultrarunners. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 25. 2835-42. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318204caa0.
3. Minz, Stephen. August 1, 2018. What are Values? https://www.ethicssage.com/2018/08/what-are-values.html (accessed online 16/1/21)