Nine Israelis and a Jet Pilot

Last week was the first time, in a very long while, that I’ve been able to remove any distractions, agenda or goals from an exercise-focused trip. Normally, I’m guiding and it was a lot of fun to be back on the athlete side of a camp. I’m going to do more of these trips as I missed the freedom they provide.

Earlier in the week, I gave a talk at a camp hosted by Tri-Dynamic. The talk was focused on Mental Skills for Racing and I shared how I train my mind to create my life situation. Daily, each of us lays down emotional imprints that create the way we perceive the world.

I built my mental skills for athletic performance by getting my head straight in daily living. Consistent performance requires:

  • Conditioning the mind – to the way training and racing feel. As we gain experience with the sensations of preparation and racing, the emotional content of pain and fatigue is removed.
  • Calming the mind – so we are able to see the way things are, maintain our technique and conserve energy for the relaxed concentration required to perform. 
  • Restoring the mind – regardless of our physical fitness, we will struggle to perform when emotionally exhausted. Exercise is a source of emotional energy but only up to a point. Be careful of feeding disfunction (via anger, stimulants or fear) to keep yourself going well past what’s required for emotional wellbeing. Disfunction might get you through a season (or a championship) but it’s effects will linger, and impact, your entire life.

As I wrote last week, exercise tires the mind and it’s interesting to see what comes out when we go beyond ordinary levels of fatigue. Extreme training can lay bare what many years of emotional choices have done to our minds.

When tired, I have little tricks that I use to keep myself in check. One technique is to pretend I have an imaginary friend following me around, watching my every move and analyzing how I’m doing. What would this person say about me?

After riding over 1,000 kms this week and climbing more than 50,000 vertical feet – I’m no closer to what drives me to exercise but I had the opportunity to practice emotional control when physically stretched (always good for a parent).

Fatigue strips away the filters that we use to manage ourselves. I spent a lot of this week riding with a group of Israelis and a fighter-jet pilot. They coped very well with fatigue and I contemplated what was different in their approach.

Acceptance – one of the Israelis confided in me that he didn’t enjoy descending at high speed in the rain. However, he wanted to race well. He acknowledged his fear, let it go and accepted what was required to achieve his goal.

Perspective – if you’re an ER doc, a naval aviator or a combat veteran then the implications of a “bad day” are serious. It’s taken me more than a decade but I’ve been able to greatly reduce my mind’s tendency to manufacture drama out of thin air. I credit my three-year old daughter with turbo charging this aspect of my emotional development!

Reality – I’ve seen emotional meltdowns where athletes are overwhelmed by their fears. These situations are emotionally charged and I feel a powerful desire to flee individuals with chaotic minds.  When there is no escape, remember that tiny gestures of assistance can have a calming effect and help someone re-establish their ability to think clearly. At a minimum, showing compassion will give you peace-of-mind that you’re not part of the problem!

Related to the above, our hotel’s owner made the observation that she liked taking care of athletes because we are about more than overindulging. Inside, I smiled because I’m not so sure.

When the filters come off, what do you see?

Are you sure?


PS – the best part of Italy is the Italians! They have a unique capacity for unreasonable optimism as well as taking joy in being nice to whomever is in front of them. As a guy that tends to detach from people, they are a good influence on me!