By Brian MacKenzie, Erin MacKenzie and Rachael Colacino
When it comes to sport, especially endurance, the ability to suffer can not only mean the difference between a good and a great race, but can determine whether you cross the finish line at all. Developing the grit and willpower to deal with, push through, and rise above the discomfort, pain and doubt of race day can be a lifelong goal. But how do we get there?
Go for the Ride
Willing herself through suffering is something our own Erin MacKenzie, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist in rowing, is known for. Small for rowers’ standards (long levers make long strokes), the
competitive advantage Erin developed and now coaches her athletes to use is grit. That seed was planted by one of Erin’s mentors who would tell her before every big race that no one could out-suffer her. Erin kept those words close and turned them into her own personal mantra as she sat at the starting line on race day. It didn’t matter if that were actually true, and it didn’t matter what Erin’s ability to suffer was compared to anyone else. What mattered was that she believed it. She used it to push herself through when she felt fatigue set in or even when her team was losing in the last 500m of the race. The race was never over until the finish line.
For Brian, watching his wife endure and succeed through her Olympic training solidified for him the power of purpose with singular focus. “When Erin’s training became difficult, she never quit; instead when emotions and her tired body got the best of her, she’d change her recovery strategies: get more sleep, eat more healthy fats, add another massage appt. In time her outlook changed. Winning gold like Erin at the Olympics is the stuff of our dreams. We downplay the difficulties in training and romanticize the highs, but training is ups and downs, and life includes seasons. Life is change. You must go up, and you must come down. You cannot control life’s peaks and valleys, but you can go for the ride.”
Stay Mindful of Your Goal
Whether we’re aiming for Olympic gold or aiming for the victory of a personal PR, all sports require grit. Running a marathon for three or four hours hurts. The pain and deterioration that accompany running 100 miles for 25 or 30 hours really hurts. Failing at setting a new Squat Max sucks. Being stuck at the same Squat Max PR for months on end really sucks. No matter the distance or goal, your motivation for why you started in the first place can help push you through the pain. Grit is the ability to push through that temporary discomfort for a longer term goal. A goal that nothing will stop.
Whether your training seems too hard or is flowing just right, whether your life is peaking or kicking you in the nuts, remember that action is king. We can sit around with our doubts, letting them weigh us down into inaction. Or we can get up, go back outside, and go around our doubts. It’s always harder to move a parked car.
Beyond sport, grit can help you succeed in business or in whatever activities you pursue. Humans are wired to want to push further. We like to explore the boundaries of our comfort zones. We want to do more, go further, make our pursuits more difficult. Being curious about your self-perceived limitations will help push you through everyday challenges.
Change Your Reaction
We all have ups and downs, and we all have moments of doubt when we question our choices. When (not if) you feel those deep valleys of physical and mental pain, when you want to quit, when you want to do anything else but what you are doing right now, practice changing your reaction to the pain. You don’t need to ignore the pain, just be with it. Ask yourself where it hurts, can I take just one more step, and most importantly is there anything I can do right now to alleviate this feeling.
We concentrate on skill first and foremost in Shift because it gives you a toolbox to solve your own pain and dysfunction when the going gets tough. By reasoning with yourself and breaking down the problem you may just solve it. Suffering is a skill just like running, biking, swimming, and rowing. While you practice your ideal technique, also practice your ideal reactions to stress.