Mental Toughness – (2) Pain Management

In my post “In Honor of Army Sgt. First Class David Metzger”, I talked about the mental toughness of Watertribers. In that post I stated that there were fours areas of mental toughness I am attempting to address in my training. I want to again state that I am not a psychologist and the thoughts I am sharing are strictly from my prospective. Dr. Nick Hall, who is an accomplished Watertriber in his own right, has probably done the most work in studying the mental side of Watertibers     . The four areas of mental toughness that I have targeted are: (1) Fear management, (2) Pain management, (3) Decision making while fatigue and (4) Resiliency. In my post ” In Honor of  Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Theodore Fitzhenry” I addressed (1) Fear management. In this post I am exploring (2) Pain management. All the athletic events I have done have had some element of pain management. My pain management for short events, like those lasting less than                   15 minutes, is more along the path of “suck it up because it will be over shortly”. I call the mental voice for this my Rambo voice. Pain really doesn’t have a mental voice here because it doesn’t have enough time to wake any up. What is 15 minutes right?  Now I will say that I do feel that time doesn’t move at the same pace all the time. A 15 minute period when I am having fun sure moves a lot faster than a 15 minute period when I am in a lot of pain. As I look at events that go up to 90 minutes I would have to say my pain management is kind of the same mentally as in the shorter events. My Rambo voice is there in force “Suck it up, deal with it, this will be over shortly, be a man”. But in events up to 90 minutes good old pain has enough time to wake up my Peanut voice, ( those that are familiar with Jeff Dunham know who I am talking about) ) and starts to argue with Rambo. Peanut says things like ” this really really hurts, hey 90 minutes is very long time, I don’t feel so well, this suuuuuccccckks, lets just slow down, better yet lets just stop”. In the end my Rambo voice usually wins. A mental battle but not a long one. In events that are 90 minutes or less my body usually doesn’t experience any physical distress due to lack of fuel.  Over 90 minutes pain has time to wake up another voice that kind of joins in with Peanut but is a pretty grumpy voice that I call my Archie Bunker voice. Archie says things like ” You never told me I had to keep the house warm for longer than 90 minutes. I only had enough cut fire wood to warm the house for 90 minutes and now you want me to go out, chop a tree down and cut fire wood to keep the house warm for how long !  Hey stuff it Rambo !” Along with this I am dealing with Peanut ” this suuuuccckks, this is not fun, lets just stop”. This period, where my body is switching from using the stored fuel in my muscles to breaking down fat, is never a great time for me. The voice that emerges to counter Archie is Yoda . Yoda says things like “concentrate, keep your focus, this will pass, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, use the FORCE ( I don’t really hear that but it sure sounds good) . Pain management during this phase does consist of a lot of mental focus, knowing that this phase will pass and to keep pushing through. I normally get quiet during this phase and best to be left alone. Since I don’t have a team-mate and in this race rarely do you see a fellow contestant except at major checkpoints I usually am alone. Lucky for everyone involved. Once I get through the transition Rambo, Peanut, and Archie go take a rest and Yoda hangs around. After sometime has passed I have a fourth mental voice that enters that I call a Spock. Spock is the most logical of all the mental voices I deal with. Spock seems to come from a neutral place. Spock says things like ” here is a pain,  how bad is it and can it be minimized, can that pain be ignored, is that pain a sign that we are losing the fuel supply to fuel consumption battle, yes you are tired but have you seen the green flying monkeys yet, if not you probably can keep going” Now I will say that if I do not pay attention and start to lose the fuel supply to fuel consumption battle, Archie and Peanut come back with a revenge. In endurance sports it is call bonkering and you can bonker physically, mentally or both which is a terrible place to be. I don’t have a voice for that I just call it the “black hole”. Most long duration endurance events that I have participated in were over that same day that they start. Pain management was isolated to that particular day. In these events I only had to deal with Rambo, Peanut, Archie,Yoda and Spock once.  Watertribe events are a different animal in that they are multi day events where I end up having to deal with Rambo, Peanut, Archie, Yoda and Spoke everyday. On top of that I am waking up with the aches and pains of the previous day and this magnifies Peanut’s whining and he starts the minute I wake up. I also have found that good old Rambo is nowhere to be found and Yoda is a little sleepy and slow. So how am I training for the UFC and learning to deal with all these mental voices. First lets take Rambo and Peanut. The workout schedule that I am on really is designed to stress my body in various areas, be it long distance, strength, and intervals. During each of these workouts I consistently try to put Rambo in his place and look for Peanut to show up. If it is a good workout Peanut will show up but each time it takes longer and longer and each time I overcome his whining. In fact the more I find that I deal with Peanut the less I pay attention to him and it just becomes a dull irritation to completing the workout.  Dealing with Archy is a little different issue. I am using the same tactic of dealing with Peanut, that of having workouts that force my body to go through the transition and conditioning my body to learn how to make the fuel transition better. This helps with my Yoda voice. But, there is another element ,that of ensuring that I have the right fueling system and right fuel products to make this transition as easy as possible. Sometimes I feel like I am putting my body through a chemistry experiment. Practice makes perfect and the frustrating part is what works for one person may not work for me. Lots of trail and error and a few opportunities to spend time in the “black hole”. It is not a nice place to spend time. Dealing with Spock is complex and a daily assessment. I have tried to put together a training plan that has me dealing with some soreness and pain when I wake up. This is what I have dealt with on both ECs and fully expect the same with the UFC. There is a balancing act between pushing to have pain but not pushing so far that I fall victim to an injury due to over training. Thus my point of it being a balancing act. If I decide that I am too sore to workout and I am wrong, then I am not training my Spock voice. If I decide that I am not too sore to workout and I am wrong, I could injure myself. This would set my training back or worse could prevent me from doing the event. So the bottom line is that I have tried to structure my training plan to stress the different pain trigger points. This way I am mentally  learning how to deal with it in training so I will be better prepared to deal with it during the event. In athletic events we incur the pain on ourselves. For special operations warrior families who have lost loved ones pain came and took up a long-term residence. Please consider a donation to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation to help reduce the pain for the families of our Special Operations Warriors.