Everyday we need to train our minds the same way we train our bodies–with the understanding that physical actions help cultivate mental fortitude.

This past weekend I faced one of the most gruelling mental and physical challenges of my entire existence. I ran my first ultra endurance race. The run was 100 miles non-stop at altitude, which was just under 5000 ft., and took place in Palm Springs, California.

I have long known about the physical and mental health benefits of running as they’ve been greatly researched, studied and documented. But last weekend I was really able to reflect upon the valuable benefits of endurance racing that are often not documented. For instance, the benefits that impact other foundational parts of being human beings–beyond physiological strength. Perseverance, confidence, patience, how we push through adversity and the non-tangible strengths that build us into a better human beings and help us live better lives.

Here are a few life lessons I learned as the newest inductee into the endurance running world:

You Have To Suffer

Suffering is a gift. When we choose suffering voluntarily and do the things that challenge us the most, it helps us develop coping mechanisms for when real-life obstacles present themselves. Life is all about hills and valleys, ups and downs, happiness and struggles. As an athlete, you are asked to push the limits of what you once thought wasn’t possible over and over again. Accepting and embracing a challenge with an open mind rather than an attitude of preconceived failure takes us further in all areas of life. Plus, encountering a challenge is an opportunity for growth and knowledge.

Mental Toughness Is Cultivated

Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked on in order to grow and develop. If you haven’t pushed yourself in thousands of small ways, you’ll inevitably wilt when things get really difficult. You can’t become committed or consistent with a weak mind. Everyday we need to train our minds the same way we train our bodies–with the understanding that physical actions help cultivate mental fortitude.

We Are All Limitless: There’s Nothing I Can Do That You Can’t Do

We are all capable of doing anything we set our minds to. Endurance sports have an amazing ability of teaching us how far we can go and how much pain we can endure before giving up or continuing on. The human mind will give up far earlier than the body will. Before my race I trained my mind as much– if not more, than I did my physical body. I taught my mind to keep going just a little longer whenever I felt like I had reached a limit in my training. I meditated, listened to sleep meditations, watched documentaries and read books about reprogramming the subconscious mind, training for endurance races and about military training.

Isolation & Solitude Are Gifts

Months leading up to my race I meditated heavily. Mornings, sometimes afternoons and always at night. Being in solitude and observing my thoughts helped me to both centre and ground myself before the huge undertaking that was the race. The times I spent alone in isolation helped me tremendously during my most difficult time during my race, which was pushing through the night. Seeking out solitude and then filling it with self-reflection is where we can experience real  growth.

Visualization: Keep Your Eye on The Prize

Several weeks before my race I put myself at the finish line. And not only did I visualize myself crossing the finish line, I also visualized how I’d feel during the last lap. I thought about how fatigued I was going to be, and what I’d say to myself to not slow down. The mental side of running is way more crucial than the physical; we’ve all experienced the critical moment in a race or in life where we’ve been faced with the decision to keep pushing or back off and relent to the pain. Callousing the mind to the pain of exertion is one battle, another is working against the limits we place on ourselves. The best way to achieve any goal is to picture ourselves accomplishing the goal first in our minds, because if we can see it then we can definitely achieve it.

Life is full of tests, but ultimately, we are the ones that decide how to manage or conquer them.