Rappelling down a 400-foot waterfall and jungle-trekking were just two of the challenges Lisa Hawkins faced in the "Eco-Challenge." Hawkins and three other Portlanders made up Team Quest, one of 81 teams racing in Fiji last October in the adventure race billed as "the toughest in the world."
Unfortunately, Team Quest didn't finish what it had set out to do. After the weather turned potentially dangerous, with heavy winds and rain, race officials shut down the course, plucking TQ off of a mountaintop by helicopter. Hawkins and her teammates were two days away from completing the race. Though she says that the Eco-Challenge tested her physical limits, there was never a moment when she thought she couldn't continue. She attributes part of this drive to her mind-set. "We decided that we were just going to go balls-out for eight to 10 days," says Hawkins.
In preparation for the race, Hawkins and her teammates trained intensively for an entire year. Seven days a week, they would gather at the gym around 4:30 am and also train several more hours after work. Saturdays and Sundays were long training days, and the group frequently went to Mount Hood to bike, climb, hike and run--all skills called upon during the Eco-Challenge.
"Oftentimes we were the only ones out there," says Hawkins. "People must have thought we were crazy." But having a goal kept them going.
"It's so easy to say, 'Why don't I skip my workout and go out to dinner instead,'" she says. "But we didn't do that--we pushed ourselves and got all our training in, because we wanted to do well."
Saturdays are also long training days for Tiana Dixon, a marathon runner and member of Portland Fit, a local running group that trains for the Portland Marathon. Dixon, who usually logs 20 to 35 miles per week, pounds the pavement on the weekends, running 10 to 12 miles on Saturday mornings. Having run all 26.2 miles of the Portland Marathon last October, Dixon says she's motivated to complete long runs by her desire to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to meet training goals--and by the stress relief.
"Running gives me time to solve problems, gain perspective, clear my mind, and just prepare for whatever is next," says Dixon.
She adds that one of the hardest parts of the marathon last October was crossing North Portland's St. Johns Bridge and seeing the city--where the race ends--so far behind. But she has a few tricks she used to keep herself going.
"I play mental games," says Dixon, "like picturing a route that I run regularly on short runs. I remind myself how easy that route is and tell myself I am only running that far." She also reminded herself that her body was performing something incredible. "I think about people who can't run due to illness or other problems," says Dixon. "I remind myself that the pain I am experiencing in the marathon is nothing like the pain some people feel, day in and day out." She added that running with music also carried her through some of the most difficult miles. But, according to Dixon, having the right mind-set is what allowed her finish the marathon. "My legs were tired and sore, and it was hard to think about finishing, because all I could think about was taking the next step. Getting through it is completely psychological."
According to sport exercise psychology professor Robert Harmison, Dixon and Hawkins have mastered techniques that many successful athletes use to motivate themselves. Harmison, who was the mental-training consultant for the 2002 U.S. Snowboarding Team (which went on to win a gold medal), says these are tricks even occasional gym-goers can use to rev up their workouts.
Harmison says there are three main things exercisers should do to motivate themselves during training: goal setting, visualization and positive self-talk.
Dixon and Hawkins both set goals--to complete the marathon under a certain time and to finish as one of the top 15 teams during the Eco-Challenge, respectively. While Hawkins didn't meet her goal, setting it helped her complete eight full days of the race. According to Harmison, people should set goals not only to deal with outcomes in a competition but also to improve personal performance. For example, Dixon says that part of what motivates her to run daily is the desire to improve her time. Harmison also notes that visualization on a daily basis is an important part of motivation.
"Visualizing yourself in the competition, or visualizing yourself in the activity, pushing yourself is an effective motivator."
Lastly, Harmison adds that exercisers should engage in positive self-talk.
"Athletes have the best chance of pushing themselves if they think about the positive things that they can and will do," says Harmison. During the Eco-Challenge, Hawkins said that she kept herself going by reminding herself that she was sufficiently prepared--and that she wanted to finish the race. "There wasn't a time during the eight days when I thought that I couldn't do it," says Hawkins.