Fatigue is Voluntary

My mind has been playing tricks on me lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a bit burnt out on life lately in general, just feeling a bit stagnant and like every day is just sort of coming and going. My confidence is starting to fizzle and negativity is starting to creep in.  

Mental fortitude is such a huge component of racing, especially multisport races. And it’s strange to me that these thoughts of inability are cropping up in my brain at the same time I’m also training hard and seeing improvements in myself.  

Mental fatigue is something everyone will deal with at some point or another. And when you’re mid race and feeling tired, it’s easy to get down on yourself, but in the end only you can make yourself finish what you started. I have a quote that has been on my home computer screen for like three years now, pretty much since I decided to get into triathlon and push myself. 

“Recognize that your current limits are illusions, because fatigue is voluntary.”

Whenever I’m tired, or feeling like I can’t finish something and get through a workout, I remind myself of this. 

Samuele Marcora is the leading researcher in how fatigue is more of a mental limitation then a physical limitation. Here and here are a few examples of physical exertion versus mental exhaustion. Active gives a great synopsis of the studies and provides the most iconic example possible to illustrate just how much of fatigue is mental versus physical, the Iron War of 1989. The Ironman World Championship between Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Granted, mental strength cannot carry one through a bonk, which is an entirely different beast in and of itself. But in the grand scheme of fatigue, physical and mental, it is possible to push past the level of fatigue that you feel is your “limit”. 

Having goals, no matter how unattainable they may seem, gives us something to strive towards. Having something to focus your sights on really helps you to keep things in perspective and help with the negative thoughts. Putting those goals out for everyone to see holds us accountable, regardless of nay-saying. That 5k my senior year of college that Rob and I ran together, the one that caused me so much agony and frustration, was a catalyst. It may have taken years to push past the occasional 5k here and there after that, but it was a point in my life where I realized having goals and having something the reach for beyond my current limitations was worthwhile and invigorating. 

When I stood on the shore of Oneida Lake about the plunge into my first ever triathlon I couldn’t stop thinking “What am I getting myself into? What am I doing??” And what I did was amazing. I pushed my boundaries of self limitations to the max and I finished my first triathlon. It made me feel alive.

My confidence is wavering. I’m not sure what to do other than continue to train in a way I feel will get me over the finish line of Ironman 70.3 Syracuse.  Rob registered me for a training camp that is designed for people racing IMCuse, it takes place on the course and is run by a whole team of incredible coaches. I was pumped thinking it would be just what I needed to regain some confidence. But life had other plans for me and I realized last night that one of my besties has a bridal shower the same day as the camp and since I’m in the wedding I need to be there, to support her, one of my dearest friends. So now at some point today I get to call and unregister myself. And now I’m back to square one. 

So where do I go from here? I will continue to swim and bike and run everyday until I’m standing on the beach of the Jamesville Reservoir, but how do I pump myself up between now and then? I really need a pick me up to remind myself that I am strong. I mean, I know I am, but I really need to feel it right about now. I need to feel that I am capable.  

8 Replies to “Fatigue is Voluntary”

  1. I know that one of the most inspiring things for me is to watch footage of the IM World Championships. There are so many champions there, but there are also those people out there pushing their limits to the other extremes. Especially those that have to overcome other physical limitations, such as a loss of the limb. Seeing people that train and race when so many would just say “I can’t” is so inspiring to me. We were in Kona this past October for the race and it was incredible. Being at the finish at midnight was so memorable. I actually re-watched the footage this past weekend. It just reminds you how awesome a sport we are privileged to take part in and how lucky we are to be healthy enough to do so!

  2. I’m so sorry your camp isn’t going to work out but you will get through this. I think its pretty common to have motivation wane and finding that motivation again can be tough. What excites you about the IM? Is there a book, movie, youtube video that could pump you up again? Hugs my friend, you will get there!

  3. Our brains can do disturbing things, wish I could learn how to shut it the hell up sometimes!. Trust in your training and the natural badassery you’ve been given – I love the IWC example of mind over matter. Couldn’t be more true in both training and race days! I think it’s natural to go through these phases of doubt, we all do it. Just remember it’s part of the process. And don’t forget that only 1% of the world’s population does triathlon – that alone puts you in a very unique and amazing category. 🙂

  4. You are amazing and I wish I could offer advice. All I can offer is cheerleading! Go Courtney Go!…. OK, so that seems like it’s not what you need. Can you break from your training schedule and just do a workout for fun for a couple of days – something silly like zumba or water aerobics just to move your body in a different way? Might bust up the frustration?

  5. Holy Crap Courtney, you could very well be inside my head right now. I am TOTALLY feeling your pain. In retrospect, I feel that signing up for a 70.3 only 8 weeks after a marathon was DUMB. Especially since said marathon knocked me for a loop. I am questioning my ability to FEEL ready for this. That is the BIG thing for me, I have FEEL ready and I don’t even feel close to that yet. If there’s one thing I know, is that us triathletes ALWAYS find a way to get it done. So, you and I WILL get through this, someway, somehow.

  6. I’m glad you threw in the line about a bonk being a different beast. I just ran my first full marathon this weekend, got crushed by the wall. When I saw the title to your post, my first thought was “Ba-Lo-Ney”, but then you added the bonk line and totally won me over 🙂

    That said, I agree that fatigue is voluntary, and it takes mental control to actively reject fatigue and find the energy that is hiding inside your body. Pushing aside pain and discomfort to push your performance limits and reach your goal.

Comments are closed.