Mental Strategies for Conquering Ironman
By Sue Sotir
Training is hard, much harder than racing. Training you are alone most of the time, frequently squeezing in sessions at o’dark thirty, and you look a little strange decked out in a full racing kit on the trainer in your living room. Oh, and you are tired…damned, freaking, horror-show insomnia nightmare tired. There you are, all alone, kind of funny looking, and just plain exhausted…that’s when the voices start to get loud.
“You can’t do this, you are too tired, you should take today off” Probably not.
“What makes you think you can do an Ironman? People who do that NEVER have doubts like you do right now” 15 yard BS flag on that one—EVERYONE has doubts!
“You are neglecting the important things; a good person would spend more time ___________” Fill in the blank with your personal baggage.
And those are just the mean girl voices (boys, you have mean boy voices too!). You also have to make room for what I’ve started calling the voices of certainty.
“I’m not training enough” This could mean hard enough, far enough, enough hours, fast enough.
“I’m too ___________” Old? Unfit? Unmotivated?
“I don’t look like those fast triathletes” Seriously? Who does?
“I can’t” There are so many options here, I’d run out of internet!
Just because the voice in your head is certain does NOT make it right! There is a point in training that is hard, when everything else seems hard too, and that is part of the stress that is necessary to prepare for the race. The majority of training information talks about preparing the body at the cellular, structural, and muscular levels, with Ironman training heavily focused on the metabolic systems responsible for endurance. Your mind needs to prepare as well. If you only experienced happy happy joy joy days, how would you develop your perseverance in the face of difficulty? That is a critical coping skill in endurance racing. How would you know that you can keep moving forward, enduring, if you have never done it? You wouldn’t. Having done something allows you the confidence to know you can do it again.
Preparing for a race, any race, incites anxiety because of our own fears. We all have fears around racing, and those fears amplify with
the approach to Ironman distance, because it is such a long way, and requires such a long preparation period with little outside feedback. Fear is what makes this event so valuable to us as human beings; we confront our fear and conquer it. First, we do it in daily training. Eventually, we do it on race day.
Notice I did not say you will race without fear. The fear will be present. Accept it. Make peace with it as a marker of you challenging your own soul. Fear will be there. So what? What can you do to make space for things other than the fear? Time to develop your set of mental strategies.
- Recognize your Preparation
Your training will be there too. You have done the work, ground out long days in the saddle, in the water, and on the road. You may have had that odd day (or 2, or 10) where you cried out there. Good. Emotion is critical. If you have struggled with this prep, you have an emotional connection to this journey, and that emotion has helped you to prepare your body AND your mind. In your body, your mitochondria, the fuel factories of the cells, are ready to fire all day long to move you forward. Let them! Your mind is equally engaged; capitalize on your emotional investment and know your mind is prepared to confront dark moments and whatever challenges the race gods throw your way.
Also, as you have a little time, prepare the practical stuff to ease real world taper week stress. Make lists based on your training, and pack according to your lists. Let the list making be part of your training too. (A great place to start!)
- Replace the Certain Voice with the Honest Voice.
Honesty includes recognizing strengths. Have a list of your strengths ready to replace the nasty mean kid
voice, so you don’t have to listen to that witch.
Honesty also includes acknowledging that the people who love you will love you, whatever your race time is. Your family, your friends, your teammates, and your coaches do not see you as a race time. You are you, and your spirit, enthusiasm, and shared camaraderie in a sociall
y ridiculous quest make you one of us, period. Recognize this, and replace some of the “what if” thoughts with the certainty of your support network.
- Choose to Act
Action quells fear. Move forward. Bike anyway. Run anyway. Swim anyway. One thing to do is to choose a short distance, one you almost laugh at, it’s so easy, and move that far.
Example: I want to puke…no, I will swim for 1 minute.
Then swim 1 minute. Then, do it again, and again, and again. If you keep looking ahead to a whole entire section being over, fear grows at the sheer size of it, so never actually consider the whole. Break it up, segment it, and act.
Taper week will give you rest, but you’ll have more time to consider what you are about to do. Use these
strategies early, show up at the start line, accept the fear as you embark, and act, all the way to the finish line.
See you there