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A Big Fitness Oversight

You have to train boredom if you want to be FIT.

No matter your choice of exercise, it always includes a silent partner. Boredom. You can fight it, resist it, change it up. You can increase intensity, change the view, or wear neon shoes. At some point you just have to become friends with repetition.

I never understood that you could train boredom until I prepared for a full Ironman. Seven hour bike rides where cows became my friends. Four hour runs before any cock a doodle doos. Every route was different yet painfully familiar.

I was bored with my own company. How many day dreams can a fatigued mind create?  The answer is a lot. But never enough.

Pro athletes have greater endurance for boredom. Chrissie Wellington, Ironman World Champion, said her first coach made her and her teammates ride on bike trainers or run on treadmills in tiny rooms with no televisions or anything to divert their attention from the task. By coping with boredom, they could better maintain focus during a long race.

Whether on an elliptical, sitting in a dugout, or swimming in open water, there is a how to becoming disciplined. Here are 10 tips that have helped me endure repetitive practice.

1) Keep going when I’m done.

My brain loves a finish line. So I train myself to go a little bit past it when I’m desperate to stop. This forces me to refocus and control when to release my effort on my terms. I overrule my own brain.

2) Focus on technique in parts rather than the whole.

If swimming, I analyze my stroke starting with one hand and work down to my feet. Picking apart every piece of my stroke- positioning, breathing, and effort. I use checklists and questions to insure I’m executing proper form.

3) Letting my mind go.

Most non-professional athletes need a combination of focus and drift. I allow my thoughts to go wherever they want. My mind might take on a problem and brainstorm solutions. I might have a creative burst of energy and take mental notes.

4) Focused pursuit.

I’ll set an unrelated mission to accomplish. I’ll plan an event or write a blog post in my head. If my mind drifts, I’ll force it back.

A killer bike session!

5) Distraction.

iPod, audio book, audio tapes, or conversation. Keep my mind off what I’m doing. I rely on music a lot! Many of us do. Occasionally I’ll shut it off and hear only sounds of my breathing, especially if training for a race. Music has shown to increase performance and if I’m enjoying a catchy beat, I’ll hang on longer.

6) Solo workouts.

This is my number one technique for training boredom. Beware of becoming so attached to group workouts or a workout buddy that you feel completely lost if left alone. This is a sure sign you’re not well trained for boredom. If only occasionally, have no one to your left or right and move forward anyway.

7) Venture into darkness.

I call myself the “midnight runner.” I have been known to hit the streets at 3:30am on foot. I’ve gone on dozens of 4:30am bike rides. Not only does every street belong to me, the experience is magical. I’m halfway done with my workout before anyone in my city has had a cup of  joe. I watch the sunrise as if my legs helped lift it up. Darkness has a mystique.

8) Swim. 

There’s nothing like staring at a black line to humble even the most patient of athletes. The view never changes even if at another pool. No escaping boredom in the blue. Once I swam 1- 1/2 hours straight using swim cords tied to a ladder in a hotel pool. I learned patience, how to relax, and to let go of the constant need for stimulation.

9) Role playing.

I admit it. Sometimes I pretend I’m Chrissie Wellington when I’m running. I smile really big and run like I’m going to win something. My form improves. When I get tired, my brain yells, “You’re Chrissie Wellington. You’re not tired!”  During the Tour de France in July, I pretend I’m a professional rider. Their legs are strong. When I do swim intervals, I’ll pretend to be Dara Torres. I may not be any faster but I feel transformed in the moment.

10) Surrender.

The more you endure boredom, the less you resist. You begin to find value in the mundane. You find peace in the monotony. You find strength in the persistence.

When you watch the Olympics this summer, you may gasp at the fearlessness of gymnasts and the speed of runners and swimmers. In relentless pursuit of a dream through tedious passage, these athletes have proven that guts and talent must be joined with an unwavering commitment to practice….

….over and over and over again.

"Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of quality, the other a matter of time."

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  1. Chloe Ortbals #

    I have to admit, sometimes when I want to stop a run, I pretend I am one of those college runners on the track. This helps me run faster than I was before. (It gives me a boost of confidence too!)

    July 3, 2012
  2. DonnaK #

    So this is what those runners I pass in my air-conditioned vehicle think about! Next time I will wave high and wide out my window and, instead of wishing I could run once again, I will choose a happy thought knowing I have given them a break in their mind. Like, “Who in the world was that old lady driving down the middle of the road wildly waving her hands!” lol

    July 4, 2012
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