I used to zone out during training going by a half-conscious autopilot. But lately, I've been trying to be mentally clear and present and trying out some mental exercise as well while training.
I've noticed that there are certain "mental modes" - not so much moods or thoughts, but a certain mix of attitude and desire that make a big impact on performance.
My worst mental "gear" to be stuck on is the one where I am very much in the here and now. I am living in the moment and listening very closely to every feeling and sensation. It's a setting where "I am my body"- I am the most aware of the physical discomfort I associate with exertion. It is also the mode where I hear the internal desire to stop or slow down the most loudly. I seem to be more emotional than rational in this mode.
My best mental gear is one where I disassociate my thoughts from my phsyical sensations and concentrate on my performance as though my body were a car and my thoughts were the driver of the car or better yet, a spectator. I interpret physical exertion as a mechanical measure and do not hesitate to turn up the effort because, on an intellectual level, I understand that I will not cause lasting pain or damage. I can let my HR go up and I easily eliminate the emotional distress signals at their onset.
I never remain at these gears on a permanent basis. They vascillate and transition from one to the other. I find that if I can concentrate and focus on sticking to the plan, I can keep the performance level up. If I don't have a "mental plan" to go with my training plan, I start listening to the "you must slow down, it hurts, it's uncomfortable, too hot, getting thirsty, must give up" voices, I get anxious for no reason and I hold back. I think I hold back on speed and effort because I'm afraid - afraid of giving myself a heart attack, bonking, injury, whatever. I hold back when I have plenty more to give, and that's no good.
Sometimes, I get short bursts of anger or fear that give me a temporary boost. Memory of a frustration, things like that. But it's not a good long term fuel but I'll take it if it's there.
For me, I'm finding the long stretches of mental reaction during an endurance training session or competition to be the most unique experiences I have.
Do any of you have similar or ways in which you use your mental game to help your performance?