Early in 2016, I moved to Hungary to escape another North Dakota winter, finish my dissertation, and, honestly, because after just a short trip a little over a month before, Budapest felt like home. I was in the final and hardest stage of my Ph.D., the dissertation. I had a faculty job that I’d begin in May. Literally the only thing I had to do over the next five months was finish and defend my dissertation.
In theory, it sounded easy. In practice, it felt impossible.
As I lived in a completely new and foreign place and was completing my dissertation, a process that I had never done before and should never do again, the only consistent thing I had in life was running. And so, every morning before I headed to Mamut (a Hungarian mall) Starbucks, I ran.
I ran without a training plan and simply according to how I felt that day. Some days I ran long, some days I ran and walked as I toured the city, and somedays I ran around a tiny little track a block from my flat. As I ran, I listed to Travis Macy and John Hanc’s The Ultra Mindset. It was, at that time, exactly what I needed to read. It helped me to stay motivated to finish my dissertation, to continue to run even when life got complicated, and is literally at my bedside (and Kindle and Audible) whenever I need a mental boost.
The author, Travis Macy, pulled from his extensive career and education to write The Ultra Mindset. To call Travis Macy an “accomplished” endurance athlete might be the understatement of the year. He set a record for Leadman, an epic endurance event consisting of a trail running marathon, 50-mile mountain bike race, Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, 10k road run, and Leadville 100 Run, all above 10,200′ in the Rocky Mountains. He has completed over 120 ultra endurance events.
Along with his endurance racing skills, Macy also is a coach, speaker, and owns an education consulting firm with his wife. With a master’s degree in education, his background is similar to mine. He incorporates his knowledge as a former high school teacher, experience as an education consultant, and knowledge of motivation research into the Ultra Mindset to create a cohesive text that provides guidance and motivation to complete any major endeavor, not just endurance ones.
The Ultra Mindset is organized into eight mindsets ranging from “It’s All Good Mental Training” to “Be a Wannabe” (which I discussed in this training with a growth mindset) to “Think about your thinking: what and why.” The Ultra Mindset is organized into chapters that discuss each mindset, beginning with the research that supports each mindset, examples of how it can be applied in practice both for endurance sports and life, and personal examples of its application. Each chapter provides useful strategies and exercises to put the mindsets into practice — and the print book has space in the text to complete the exercises, which is part of the reason that I own the book in each of its forms.
While each chapter seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear as I wrote my dissertation, the one that has become my mantra is Mindset 1: It’s All Good Mental Training. Travis writes:
“Viewing your challenges as positive, essential elements of building a winning mindset makes all the difference in the world. When the going gets tough, tell yourself, ‘This is good mental training.’ Which it is.”
As I ran each morning, it helped me to reframe my dissertation from impossible to “good mental training.” Indeed, a dissertation is good mental training for my future life as a researcher. But if I step back, my 100-mile finish at Burning River in 2015 was good mental training for finishing my dissertation. And finishing my dissertation was good mental training for my stage race earlier this year. As with many cognitive strategies to improve learning and retention, training for persistence pays off in every area of our life. To this day, whenever things get hard, I tell myself it’s good mental training for my next race, my next research project, for whenever life gets hard.
In subsequent chapters, the authors discuss how and when to focus, when extrinsic motivation might be helpful, how to make the space to accomplish your goals, and permission to quit when a dream is no longer your dream. From start to finish, each time I read it, it helps me to stay motivated and persist, regardless of what race I’m training for or what is happening in my life. It’s the one book I recommend first when people ask me what my favorite book about running is (and I’ve read a lot). For whatever runner you are or want to be, I recommend this book.
And, for one lucky person, you can win this book and a Team Macy Endurance Coaching cap. Check out our Holiday Book Guide for details.
It’s good mental training helped me through my races this year and to finish out my first semester as a new professor. What in your life has been “good mental training” for your next running or life challenge?