Digging into the pain cave: The psychology of suffering, part 2

by Jennifer Sharp


Earlier this year, Alison and I attended the TrainingPeaks Endurance Coaching Summit held at Colorado University in Boulder. The Summit brought together over 150 coaches, physiologists, psychologists, business and thought leaders based in the field of endurance sports. While there, I attended Carrie Cheadle’s The Psychology of Suffering lecture. The following are my observations from her talk, broken into two parts. (Click here to read Part 1.)

Coach Jennifer Sharp


 

The psychology of suffering is complex because it is a subjective experience. Fatigue is a limiter, as are our expectations, which affect our behavior. We also fear pain and can be afraid to burn our matches and always hold something back, preventing us from performing at our potential. (Please see part 1.)

There’s good news! You can increase your pain threshold by using some mental training tools. In part 1, I discussed five tools you can use to overcome pain. Acceptance, having a race goal, relaxation, choosing your focus and establishing an end are all ways you can mitigate pain when the going gets tough.

And by now, you’ve probably figured out that your perception of pain affects your tolerance of it. If you frame pain in a positive light, that pain is your friend, you’ll likely be able to tolerate much more of it.

So how do you do that?

You can train your mind to tolerate more pain by pushing just past the point of when you’re supposed to stop and keep going, which sends a message to your brain to move beyond that perceived limiter. The next time your coach prescribes intervals, do one more and send the message to your brain that no, you’re not going to die from discomfort and pain but that you’ll survive and be stronger for it.

If you practice this in training, you’ll be able to use it in racing. Planning how you’ll behave in certain situations can set you up for success when it comes down to a race scenario.

Do be aware though – sometimes pain is not always mental. Hydration, nutrition and your preparation for an event can also play a role. Working with a coach can lessen the learning curve but the mental training portion is ultimately up to you.

Imagine you have a challenging race coming up. It’s hilly, it’s fast, and it has technical sections with tight corners and speed. You know that the course will push you to your limit and demand 100 percent of your ability. Your expectation of suffering will lay the road for your experience. However, if you accept the pain and use practiced tools to mitigate it, you can set yourself up for success.

Suddenly, suffering becomes part of the reward.

Interested in learning more about the mental component of sport psychology? Pick up a copy of “On Top of Your Game” by Carrie Cheadle. 

 

Got questions for Jennifer or the rest of the ALP Cycles team? Post your question in the comments below or send it to us on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #askalp.

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ALP Cycles Coaching alpcycleslogo - edited is a Boulder-based coaching company with three female coaches at the helm: Alison Powers, Jennifer Sharp and Patricia Schwager.

Each coach brings her own coaching strengths and personal experiences. Road racing, track, endurance mountain biking, time trialling, making the leap to living and racing in Europe – they’ve got you covered. Find out more about Alison Powers and her Alp Cycles coaching company at here.

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