Mental Toughness is the True Differentiator

There are a lot of ways to train for a long expedition race like Raid Gallaecia. Most think you need to spend a lot of time running, biking, paddling, navigating, etc. You do, but, one of the most important attributes of top teams is their mental toughness. This can manifest itself as a willingness to suffer for long periods, to continue to perform while extremely cold, push through an upset stomach, stay moving even though one is mentally and physically exhausted, etc. Successful expedition AR athletes know how to hack the brain when it starts to demand to stop. It doesn’t matter what physique you have or the number of hours you train. Some people simply have the "grit" to keep going when 99% of the average person will quit. How is it that some succumb to the urge to quit while others don't?

At the time of this post, teams are over 40 hours into this race. For most, it is no longer fun. Everything hurts. Chafing has set in. Their minds are screaming for sleep. Their GI system is beginning to reject some foods. They are secretly thinking "why the heck did I sign up for this?". Some will vow never to do a long AR again.

Like with life, going after HUGE goals is hard. By definition, huge goals can't be easy. Why do so many strive for a typical life of comfort and relative luxury while others choose to push themselves outside of their comfort zone, take on unnecessary risks and strive for things that are outside their perceived ability? What do they know that most don’t? The answer is a very personal one and it is different for each individual.

For me, Adventure Racing is when I feel most alive. Putting a big race on the calendar, building a team, training hard, executing the race and crossing the finish line together is a feeling like no other. The last thing I hope for is for things to go off the rails during a race but when Murphy shows up to the party, it gives me (and the team) an opportunity to make an important choice. Do we quit or push through? I have a saying that I tell myself in these situations, "One cannot push their limits unless they first find them."

These are the decisions being made by the athletes and teams at Raid Gallaecia right now. Some have already had to quit. Some are considering it. Some are hoping for a change of heart after a bit of rest, once they get to the next discipline or when the sun magically rises. The teams who have the grit to continue on and cross the finish line will experience what I like to think is one of the most amazing emotions that a person is capable of.

Chip Dodd ARWC 2021 Guest Commentator Team thisABILITY Adventure Racing