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In Our Own Words

Mental Fortitude: Adapt and Overcome, the Mental Quest to Stay Active

By: Jason Drummond  September 29, 2020

Jason Drummond shares how mental fortitude pushes us beyond remarkable physical limitations increasing our capacity to go to unimaginable distances, sustaining near unbearable pain during training and competition, and carrying us through the toughest of times.

Recently I have seen an uptick of articles and documentaries focusing on mental stressors, fatigue, and the increasingly negative outlook on sports since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. This should not come as much of a surprise as the devastating news to athletes of canceled events caused backlash and uproars heard around the world. I had trained to a new level that I had never been to before, including climbing some of the steepest inclines on Oahu I had ever experienced since moving from Virginia Beach. I competed in Zwift events that were above my category, sprinted against some of the toughest Strava segments throughout the island, but at what cost? All the time and effort was lost. This was the hardest thought in my mind, and it was one that I didn’t want to hear. As an amateur athlete with US Military Endurance Sports, the drive to push limits to the max in competitive events after a long and intense training season was shattered, but my outlook was different than others.

After joining the military in 2000 fresh out of high school, I had a difficult time replacing that euphoric mental satisfaction and sensation from playing soccer, pushing physical and mental boundaries. I dabbled in distance running typically going no further than 10 miles. I found myself weightlifting, which I quickly realized was not for me after weighing as much at 175 pounds and having difficulty carrying the added weight since I’m only 5 foot 8 inches. Typically, I weigh 145-150 pounds. I even tried to get back into playing soccer again, losing the drive fairly quickly after realizing the cohesive nature in a team didn’t seem to exist naturally in pickup games. The physical satisfaction of pushing limits was there, but the mental capacity wasn’t tested in every way. I needed an outlet to test my mind.

I had become stagnant prior to starting my cycling adventures, sitting at home playing first-person shooters and open-world strategy games on Xbox or Playstation for long hours, searching mindlessly on the internet for whatever seemed to gain my attention, or just watching television. I reached a point of little outside interest and needed to change my life. I started cycling at some point in 2013 as an outlet and a mental challenge. There was one day that I walked into a cycling shop and chose my first road bike with the desire to race. It was a great feeling, one that had reignited my vigor to test my own strengths. I couldn’t wait!

My wife and I are naturally competitive in general and with each other. I love her for that more than I tell her, always putting up a challenge to keep each other in shape even when we don’t intend it and keeping our minds sharp. I can remember a day in 2015 when visiting the bike shop, she randomly asked me, “What are you going to do?”, while returning from Florida after completing the Goofy Challenge, a half marathon on Saturday, followed by a full marathon the day after. I was dumbstruck and didn’t have an answer. As we walked out, a flyer for a 3 day, 300+ mile, 30000 feet of the climbing challenge had been sitting on the table, Road Titans 300. It was the mental challenge I needed to take it to the next level, and it showed me so much weakness. I returned the following year stronger, better, ready to take on the mountains of South Carolina. I’m grateful she put me up to the test. Thank you, sweetheart!

Our mental fortitude pushes us beyond remarkable physical limitations increasing our capacity to go to unimaginable distances, sustaining near unbearable pain during training and competition, and carrying us through the toughest of times. As the global pandemic has taken hold, our outlets, our planned events, our aspirations, soon became unattainable; frustration led to distress, distress for some led to a decrease in activity, and before we knew it, those goals we just obtained felt worthless. Fortunately for some, we had opportunities that allowed us to continue to push our limits even in the wake of the pandemic, but for others, an overwhelming frustration occurred and could be heard all over the social venues. I can attest, being with USMES it’s commonplace to share experiences and vent frustration to our teammates and we listen. We comment, we adapt, we build, and we hold each other to a standard. As many of the events we trained for began to cancel, we sought out different outlets. Some took to the trails, others found ways to complete local events under the support of teammates and friends, and our club stayed engaged looking for ways to keep us together. It was tough but the comradery was amazing. For myself, my wife and I took to the trails of Oahu on some days, converted our garage into a home gym, and readily jumped back onto Zwift.

Adapting to the constant change of policies and rules set forth for the safety of the Hawaiian population proved mentally hard, and we were yearning to be on the roads with others. The cycling community found ways to overcome this by setting up virtual competitions where cyclists had the ability to set times through the use of Strava segments, Zwift community rides grew, and one-off on-road experiences with small groups were able to occur within prescribed rules. It came as a relief to many. The human interaction, the comradery; it was an amazing pick me up. We couldn’t ride in mass, so what better way to stay active than to create “virtual” local events. It became something we saw all over in endurance events. Virtual competition was the new adaptive outreach, and the mental fatigue of ups and downs coming from media venues regarding the pandemic, soon became a hurdle that was manageable.

Mental fortitude works differently in every person. In endurance and competitive sports like cycling, running and triathlon, that mental toughness can be the driving force to finish the race or push through that last 10 minutes in training. In the case with the pandemic, no one wants to be confined to their home. It takes a heavy toll on the mind not being able to venture out. Limited by only the scope of our imagination, new goals, new aspirations and new personal bests can be reached. Thinking outside of your sport can help unlock key attributes to enable you to excel. Earlier I mentioned taking up weightlifting for a short time. During the creation of my wife’s and I home gym, we included a squat rack and weights, bands, a treadmill and of course, a Wahoo Kickr and television for my bike. Rather than sticking to the usual Zwift ride, confined to our garage, and not wanting to risk becoming bored, I had done some research about adding a weight routine. I decided to add 2-3 times a week doing squats, deadlifts, calf raises, and alternating leg lunges at 60-80 percent body weight, blown away that I was able to hold a higher power output for a longer duration. This was just one instance in which the pandemic had turned positive in all of the negative we had been experiencing.

Building mental toughness and thinking outside of the box aren’t just two areas that have become a newfound ability during the trying times. Getting out into nature became a common place for my family, frequenting Koko Head, a three-quarter mile hike climbing to 1000 ft with an incline up to 45 degrees, and Judd Trail, a winding mile and a half trail through various vegetation, forests, crossing streams, and a particular section of Cook Pines that shifts my mind away into a period of medieval era, waiting for swordsman and archers to come running. These random moments of mental release, connection with family, and destressing of the mind have brought me a long way during the pandemic. So how does all of this contribute to the sports we all take up? Honestly, there is no right answer. Each person experience of mental toughness is different, coping with mental stressors, but one thing is certain - this pandemic has made us all a bit stronger. We just need to find the right constructive outlet when our sporting venues are unavailable.

The story I’ve told is a random motivation to write, and the long, arduous journey of rising to personal goals threatened by pandemic. Without some form of outlet to maintain a solid mental capacity, our ability to perform can be severely hindered. We should not view this pandemic as a negative occurrence. We should welcome the change in all of our sports venues and welcome the mental adaption to potential growth of endurance activities. It’s unfortunate that it has taken such a substantial impact to make a change, and compliancy or the old adage, “if it works, don’t fix it” may of had its place. I’ve learned to adapt, overcome, and live by my own motto, “Just one more mile, but stop to look around to take in the view.” Push your limits and stay positive!

About the Contributor

Jason Drummond is a US Military Endurance Sports Athlete, who has been cycling for seven years and competing for five years. He is currently on Active Duty for the US Navy, serving over 20 years. His drive is to promote a healthy mental and physical lifestyle and one day be on the national stage representing his team.