Mental flexibility or toughness is the key to success in endurance athletics. The best athletes know this: It is a matter of mind over matter – if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.
We have all heard about the mystical “Pain Cave” in writings and commentary about training. Yes, the Pain Cave does exist, but only in our minds. Since it exists solely in our minds we have absolute control over what goes in there. Remember that we are dealing with matters of perception and the Pain Cave is just a euphemism for going to the edge. Those that aren’t afraid to go to this place have a decisive edge over those that won’t take that step.
Many refer to the Pain Cave as the place where all manner of life is misery, pain and torment. That is a great way to look at it if your goal in sport is to be miserable. If you want to become a better athlete, mentally flexible and physically stronger, I suggest that you look at the Pain Cave in a different light.
The Pain Cave is a place that many athletes merely glimpse into. They are afraid to walk in. Explore the area. Decorate a bit. Become more comfortable there. Paint the walls. In essence they look in the window but don’t move in.
You can truly grow as an athlete when you begin to trust in yourself and your training. You reach a point where you want to step into the black place for a bit. Eventually you become more accustomed to pushing your threshold and you decide to decorate the wall. The next thing you know, you are buying furniture and painting the walls! You have realized that you can spend time there – you kind of like going to the Cave. Your mind has become used to your body being comfortably uncomfortable. You are spending more time there and you miss it when you think that you won’t visit for a while.
The idea is to increase your threshold endurance. This is both physical and mental. Many of us have not refined the mental flexibility to accept being physically uncomfortable. The more willing you are to walk in the door and make yourself at home the sooner that you will see results.
Here is an easy step by step on how to make the most of your Pain Cave. Perform these tasks at your own pace over a period of time. Change doesn’t occur overnight!
1. Find the address. You have to figure out where uncomfortable starts.
2. Stop by and stare in the window. Spend a few minutes there at first.
3. Step inside for a bit. Look around and know that you can leave at any time.
4. Decorate a bit. Find the cues that signal when you are at threshold and use them to decorate. Your rapid heart beat can represent a wall hanging and the burning in your legs could indicate that you have taken to the stairs. Take the discomfort that you feel and make it your own – by doing so you have taken control. When you are in control you can push harder in your sets and reach heights that you never thought possible.
5. Get some furniture. Find positive motivating thoughts (furniture) that you can use while you are there to make your stay more comfortable. An athlete that is in control and who is comfortable pushing themselves to the limit will develop an instinct for maximum performance.
6. Paint the walls. Focus on a color that soothes you and helps you get through your set. The ability to control your focus during threshold sets is the key to success in every workout that you do.
7. Leave on your own accord. You are now in control of the Pain Cave and you can feel free to call it your “Happy Place” if you like. If you work towards making yourself mentally flexible or “tough”, you have won a large part of the battle.