By 5x XTERRA Age Group World Champ Mimi Stockton
With the race season underway, you may already be planning for your desired physical gains and improvement in performance. For most, this usually involves training plans focused on the performance of the body. For some athletes, those plans will also include training to build mental toughness. And then, there are a select few who will go that next step further and focus on training and racing with their hearts.
What in the world am I talking about? I am convinced that when an athlete trains and competes out of a place of deep love for his or her sport, performance increases while stress is actually reduced. What’s more, these are typically the athletes who will yield the most enduring achievements in 2018 and beyond. It’s important to note that I’m not just talking about elite athletes. This approach of racing with heart is available to every athlete who pursues the challenge of XTERRA.
Having what we call heart is beyond simply finding our own will. Human will, of course, is important. It’s what propels us to swim another lap or run another mile. Human will motivates, but it’s the nature of lasting motivation that matters even more. Heart is that lasting motivation. Human will is what gets us to sign up for a race, or gets us into the gym. Heart is what gets us to stay there. Heart transforms our lives, knowing that we are fighting for what we love. Heart is what gets us to compete authentically with our true nature, which is different than just being a gutsy racer.
We see examples of true heart all the time. Heart is evident in acts of true sportsmanship as well as in those gritty performances when an athlete dares to compete at a level beyond where they think they belong. When we see those people lose gracefully despite giving it their all, that is also heart. Even failure can be an example of heart when there is a willingness to accept it, grow from it, and try again. The best thing about having heart is that even in defeat, no one can take true heart away from you. Athletes who compete with heart are usually laser-focused, intrinsically-motivated, excited about winning, and resilient toward setbacks and failure. Heart is also the element of the experience that makes for the best stories.
As an athlete, you probably already have a vision of your upcoming season, whether it’s getting to the finish line of your first XTERRA, getting a PR at a specific race, or perhaps even a podium and a trip to the XTERRA World Championship. But if that vision resides primarily in your head and not in your heart as well, you are at a significant disadvantage as you pursue your own personal greatness. As important as the metrics of heart rate, pace, and power are to improving performance, when they are disconnected from the focus of the heart, they will fall short of helping you achieve your fullest potential. Let your heart and soul drive your vision for the season and your training and racing will be ignited.
When you move away from a fixation on the metrics (try leaving your watch at home just once this month), you can readily focus your energy on the more elusive energy potential of the human heart. Now I’m not talking about the physical aspects related to the heart such as heart rate, heart rate variability or blood volume, which can be measured by our devices and in laboratories, but rather the vast potential found only in the yearning that resides deep within your heart and soul—the place where dreams are born, embraced and pursued with passion.
When the love of the sport is the primary factor that gets you up and out the door there will always be motivation to spare. Your level of heart cannot be measured but your best performances will always be those where your heart was fully vested, because it is in your heart that the seeds of personal greatness are sown and nurtured.
I think one of the biggest compliments an athlete can be paid is when someone says that he or she has heart. In the world of XTERRA racing, that means you can take a bad fall and get back up again, you show an undeniable will to win, you help someone with a flat tire even if it means slowing you down, you relentlessly fight to the finish, and you never give up in the face of adversity. As much as any athlete would take pride by having his name associated with that particular phrase, she’s got heart, how many actually work on it?
Having heart is not an inborn, genetic trait. It is something that can be learned. While some might have differing opinions on that subject, one thing that we can all agree on is that we all have the ability to play hard and “go for it” when competing. What this means is that we can develop skills to help minimize anxiety and insecurities, thereby allowing us to fully focus on playing as hard as we can and displaying great heart while competing. Of course, individual differences will always be there, making it an uneven playing field (damn those pros are so fast, it’s not fair!) - but we can still get more from ourselves if we try.
There is risk in this approach as well. The heart can be broken. It is far more risky to trust in the heart's longings than to trust in numbers. But in the breaking and un-breaking of the heart, an athlete grows the most. Character is built through such adversity and the heart and soul of the athlete matures and grows stronger. To be led by your heart requires the courage to risk more than metrics - you must also risk the deepest part of yourself. But that is also where the greatest rewards are found. So put on your tri kit and take your place at the start line of the swim. Live your life full out, with all the passion and dedication you can muster. Let your heart burst with courage, and have faith in yourself. Know that whenever you commit yourself one hundred percent, the game is already won.
The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by Sheri Anne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA. Learn more at https://nextlevelendurance.net or email info [at] nextlevelendurance.net.