First time Ironman athlete Julie posted a comment on our blog asking how to prepare mentally for the Ironman race during the taper.  She writes “now that you have all your hard-earned endurance training done, how does one align the mental preparation with that to feel ‘ready to go’ day of.”

This question is quite common and we felt that it would benefit many first time Ironman athletes if we were to write a bit about this.

Our viewpoint is that Ironman race day is not the “hard part.”  It’s the consistent training over months and months that is hard.  If you were diligent in your training, didn’t blow off any workouts (or VERY few) because you just “didn’t feel like it” then believe it or not, that has created an excellent foundation from which to build your final mental game for Ironman race day.  Again, I reiterate, finishing the Ironman race is NOT hard.

Let’s break it down.

Now that you have finished your training, you know what you can physically do, right?  You have a good idea of how fast you can swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and even if you have not run 26.2 miles, a pretty good feeling what you could put together for that distance.  So I would like you to ask yourself a few questions:

1)      Could you swim 2.4 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes?  (That equates to a pace of a little over 3:30/100m.)

2)      Could you bike 112 miles in 8 hours? (This equates to a pace of 14mph.)  Of course, this assumes that you took the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes to swim, if you didn’t, you get to add to this 8 hours.  For discussion purposes, let’s assume you took the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes and spent 10 min in transition.

3)      Could you run 26.2 miles in 7 hours? (This equates to a pace of about 15:40 min/mile.) Of course, this assumes that you took the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes to swim and the full 8 hours to bike and spent 10 min in transitions.

When breaking the Ironman down like this you can begin to understand you will have PLENTY of time to finish the Ironman.  So what does the Ironman come down to then if it’s not about getting in under the 17 hour time limit?

The Ironman is all about 2 things; don’t overcook the bike and stay on top of your fuel (which includes your nutrition and hydration).  These are the 2 biggest things that cause first time Ironman athletes (and experienced Ironman athletes) to DNF.  Period.

So what does this mean and what does this have to do with Ironman Mental Preparation?  I mean, all we’ve talked about so far is time cut offs and consistent training.

Yes, but really what we are talking about is providing you with the ability to provide YOURSELF with the confidence that all you need to do is focus on two primary areas at Ironman; don’t overcook the bike and stay on top of your nutrition.  If you do this, you will almost certainly reach your dream of completing your first Ironman.

Ok, so with all that “practical” stuff aside, what about the esoteric mental readiness that folks like to talk about?  Here are a few things to help you get your game on:

1)      Look through your training log over the past 6-9 months and see how far you’ve come.  Look at what you were able to complete in month 2 of your training and look what you were able to complete 4 weeks prior to Ironman.  See the difference?  Good, lock that into your skull and take it out when the going gets tough on the course.

2)      Make lists, lots of them if you want.  Make a to do list for your bike check in day, make a list for your post IM recovery protocol, make a to do list for your transitions, make a list for what you should be remembering on the bike and run, make a list of what you want to put in your special needs bags.  Making lists and going shopping for stuff ahead of time will get you more prepared and make you less anxious because you’re “doing” stuff instead of sitting around thinking of stuff that MIGHT happen on race day.  If there is one thing first time Ironman athletes need to be aware of is “DO NOT GET WEIGHED DOWN BY THE BAGGAGE OF YOUR FUTURE.”  You can not control what might happen so don’t think about it all the time.

3)      Pick your 5-8 favorite inspirational songs and listen to them before you go to bed, when you get up, and even at work.  Listen to them all the time and visualize how strong and prepared you will feel at Ironman.

4)      DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE SWIM.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say “I’ve never swam with 2,500 people before, it scares me.”  Look, just like the time cuts for the Ironman, you need to break the swim down.  First and foremost you WILL NOT be swimming with 2,500 people (sorry to disappoint you).  You will only be swimming with a MAX of 6 people and usually only 3-4.  How is that possible?  It’s a little secret called proximity.  See, when you’re swimming you can only realistically have at most, two people in front of you, two people on each side of you and two people behind you.  Anymore than that, those people are not swimming in your proximity so you don’t have to worry about them.  You only have to worry about those people around you and realistically, only those people that can cause you any harm.  So who really are the people that can cause you harm?  Well, the people in front of you can kick you (so keep your distance and control that).  The people to your sides can hit your with their hand entering the water (so don’t keep your head near the area that they are entering their hand).  The people to your rear can swim over you (so if you feel someone coming up on your feet, kick a little more vigorously to “encourage” them to swim around you rather than over you).

Now I understand this is not an all inclusive, comprehensive, and highly sophisticated mental tool box for you to use, but this is a blog post and not a 120 page book.  However, the major points you should focus on have been highlighted and if you do nothing else during taper week to get yourself ready for your first Ironman but do what is above, you will be VERY prepared mentally and come to the start line with your “A” game.

Got questions?  Want to hear more about a specific point in this post?  Just add a comment and we’ll do our best to address them.

Most of all, remember my favorite quote:

“You have not tasted success until you have succeeded at something you truly thought not possible”
- Coach Steve from Endurance Sports Institute