Joseph Gray is one of the most decorated trailrunners in the sport and was recently awarded the USA Mountain Runner of the Year & and the USA Trailrunner of the Year (Sub Ultra) for 2018. He is a multi-time national and world champion, in addition to a 4x winner of the Xterra World Trail Running Championships. Joseph was also one of the first Amp Human Performance ambassador athletes we worked with after he came to us looking to grow and improve as an athlete through the use of PR Lotion. If anyone knows what it takes to get out of their comfort zone and up their game, it’s Joseph Gray. Here’s what he says about pushing yourself and searching for further improvement.
Too often we as athletes get comfortable and complacent. In reality, we underachieve even if we ourselves don’t recognize it. Regarding distance running specifically, we spend many hours throughout the year suffering and learning to tolerate pain. We train to attain comfort with a certain level of pain that will allow us to achieve our goals. In a sense, this becomes our “threshold.” A theory that I carry along my coaching strategy has always been that ego and ability maintain an ever-changing relationship. One that is only improved with humility.
Throughout a distance runner’s journey, they will undoubtedly find that their ego shifts along with confidence surrounding certain types of races ranging in distance and terrain for trail/mountain athletes. In addition, one’s ability also changes as we age, work through injuries, life changes etc. Typically, early in a distance runner’s career they are much quicker and able to push out higher watts for short periods of time, i.e. Power and Speed! As we age, long distances become central in our race focus. When athletes lose speed and start to reap the benefits of many years of muscular and capillary system development they find that they can handle longer hauls such as Marathon, Ultramarathons and Steep Mountain events that don’t require speed as much as they require strength/endurance.
The problem with this relationship between ego and ability is that it causes us to choose races, goals and train in a way that does not allow us to grow as athletes in order to reach our maximum potential. When it comes to reaching your potential, one must train with variety in mind to tackle all the systems necessary for success. They must also expand their abilities in a number of ways through racing and training to reach their ultimate goal.
When your ego is threatened, for example, you enter a race that is way out of your comfort zone, you immediately fear the outcome before the gun even goes off. You allow negativity to flood the mind before you start because you realize that you are entering a zone that mentally and physically you are not ready for or don’t feel you are best at.
Over time, you avoid these types of events and run away from your fears. In reality, you have accepted that you do not want to grow and that you are too afraid to chase your potential. This is ok for the vast majority of runners. However, if you have competitive goals, running away from the race that you fear may lead to you also running away from accomplishing your goals. Often we forget that the reason behind some of our biggest accomplishments was that we spent a lot of time outside of our comfort zone beforehand and also during that accomplishment. Struggles give us an opportunity to grow.
Muscles develop at faster rates when introduced to new stimulus. The brain likewise; memory is enhanced when stimulated to new knowledge frequently. From a simple observation of the human body, it is easy to theorize that when it comes to athletic performance, runners must continue to expose the body to discomfort to approach new levels of fitness and surpass goals. The goal is to always grow even if you aren’t able to continually get faster. Growing mentally doesn’t always mean surpassing goals. It can mean that you are challenging yourself and reaching new heights mentally. You know the old saying, “Racing is 90% mental and 10% physical.”
Sometimes placing yourself in the fire will lead to disappointment. This is ok. There will be roadblocks along the way, as is the case with most accomplishments. Otherwise, would they be worth pursuing? You cannot run away from these aspects if you want to reach for the sky. Just as you embrace the pain on those tough days, you must also endure and embrace failure along your journey. Don’t get too comfortable doing what you’ve always done if you want to do something you have not ever done. To create a symbiotic, healthy relationship between ego and ability, get out of your comfort zone and grow!