Triathlons are as much a mental challenge as it is physical. This is especially true in long distance events like Ironman. The longer you’re out there competing, the more your head tries to get in the way. The human body tends naturally toward conserving energy, and the mind often puts the brakes on long before you run empty.
When the going gets tough, can you find the mental fortitude within yourself to finish the race? Here are some great strategies to get you mentally tough and able to pull through adversity.
Don’t Think, Just Do
Retired professional triathlete Belinda Granger says her former coach Brett Sutton used to urge their squad to “Take your brain out at the door.” Sometimes we overthink a training session, which can lead to analysis paralysis and a loss of motivation due to dreading the hard work ahead.
But just focusing on getting the session done (or each interval of the session) gives you a valuable mental tool when you’re faced with an arduous challenge. The only way you’re getting through it is to Just. Do. It. Come race day, you’ll have trained your body to keep going, even when your mind isn’t into it.
Focus On What You Can Control
You can’t really do anything if other people pass you, or the weather isn’t to your liking. However, you can control how you respond to those types of situations – and this is what’s more important. Setting your sights only on things you can control conserves your energy and attention span so that you'll have enough mental capacity to handle a rough patch and keep going. Always focus on the present and don’t look too far ahead into the future or look back into what has already happened.
Take Things Segment By Segment
The length of Ironman races can challenge even the most physically fit triathlete. Segmenting the whole race and taking it by kilometer or by goalposts you decide on will help you deal better. Two-time Ironman world champion Chris McCormack tells us in his book I’m Here to Win that he took the Ironman marathon one aid station at a time, focusing on fueling and managing his body temperature properly at each of them to tide him over until the next one.
Belinda used the same strategy to power through to her 15 ironman wins. She says, “I would just try and be the best I could be from one aid station to the next. I'd then use that aid station to slow down, get in the drink and the nutrition I needed, refocus, regroup, and start again… before you knew it you were halfway through the marathon and then you have 5k to go… You're on the home stretch; you're always going to make it home.”
By doing this especially during rough mental spots you won’t even notice how much distance you’ve covered until you’re feeling better and gotten further on your way to the finish line.
Do Tough Training to Become Tough Mentally
Belinda says mental toughness for racing comes from training for it. When you can get through key sessions where things are tough, you develop the confidence and the skills needed to do the same in a race. “I think it’s really important that you’re continually asking yourself: ‘Am I giving 100% Can I give more?’ You’d be amazed how many times you think, ‘Actually I can push a little bit harder here.’”
Building a proper rewards system helps you to appreciate all the hard work that you put into your training and preparation, says Belinda. It also allows you to be excited to do the process all over again. Whether it’s splurging on new equipment, treating yourself to your favorite meal, or planning a holiday, rewarding yourself for your efforts is something that will help you overcome that feeling of eventual laziness when you’re not in the mood or want to give up.
Keep in mind that feeling demotivated and low during a race comes in waves. Ride it out and get to the other side of the rough patches, and you’ll be well on your way to that finish line.