Mind Games: The Art To Racing An Ironman

[caption id="attachment_8295" align="alignright" width="225"]mind games - control - triathlon - ironman Control The Mind.....Not The Other Way Around[/caption] Mind games are going to happen when you race an Ironman and is, what I believe, to be the difference between people of similar ability.  Your thought process is going to swing all over the place during an Ironman but playing mind games and controlling what you are thinking of will help you tremendously in accomplishing this monstrous feat.  If you think about how many thoughts you have on a typical day at work then add in the pain and struggle of exercising for 10-17 hours straight and you can begin to see where an Ironman race is won or lost.  When I refer to won or lost I am referring to your personal goals and not necessarily an age grouper who can finish in 12 hours coming across one day and beating Craig Alexander.  The race is between you and yourself and always will be.  If you beat yourself you'll beat others. Often, I am asked the question: Do you think anybody can do an Ironman?  My answer is a resounding yes.  I believe anybody can swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles consecutively but whether they can brave the training and RACE an Ironman is a different thing.  When you break down the race and the three portions that make it up you do not have to move fast (that is a relative term depending on your ability) to complete the distances.  Here is a break down of the time allotted to each discipline and the average pace at which you have to move to accomplish finishing an Ironman in 17 hours:
  • Swim: You have 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 2.4 mile swim.  I swam what was the worst time of any of the Ironman races I have competed in at Ironman Texas 2013 with a time of 1 hour 48 minutes 59 seconds or a pace of 2:49/100 meters.  If you took up the entire time before they stopped you from racing you would have to swim at a pace of 3:37/100m.  This is not a pace that is unsustainable for a lot of people.  Yes some people don't make the swim cut-off but I don't believe it is because they are not capable of this pace, but more than likely the result of anxiety or an issue in the water that caused them to swim at a pace that would not allow them to continue.
  • Bike: On the bike you have 8 hours to travel 112 miles.  If you break this down into a miles per hour reading you would have to average 13.4 mph to finish in 8 hours.  Again this is not an impossible task if you have trained properly for the race.  If you just decided that you were going to hop on a bike and compete at a 140.6 distance race then yes it would be very difficult.
  • Run: The marathon may be the most daunting portion of this because a stand-alone marathon is hard enough but having to do one after you have swam 2.4 miles and cycled 112 miles makes it seem that much harder.  The difference between a stand-alone marathon and one at the end of an Ironman is that you are not racing in Zone 4 for 3 hours but instead working that steady burn in Zones 2 and 3.  In order to finish before the 17 hour mark you have based on the two scenarios of a 2:20 swim and 8:00 bike with 10 minutes in T1 and T2 combined, you will have 6 hours and 30 minutes.  At a pace of 14:53/mi or what you probably average if you walked the entire course you would be able to cross the finish line and call yourself an Ironman.
When you look at these paces it doesn't seem as daunting does it?  Can you do those things?  I say yes, but the difference between finishing in 17 hours and thinking that you can't is what takes place during training as well as during the race and it isn't in your legs.  The muscle that you are going to work the hardest during training and racing is the brain.  The brain will play mind games and tell you that you can't.  On rainy days, on cold days, on snowy days, on a Tuesday the brain will say stay in bed.  Staying in bed is not an option if you want to be called an Ironman and so you have to fire back and play mind games yourself. Another question I am often asked is why continue to race Ironman Texas or 70.3 Puerto Rico where the temperatures are like being on the sun and the humidity makes breathing seem like you are swallowing pea soup on every breath.  My answer is I am willing to suffer more than the next person.  I enjoy the ability to race in these conditions and it is because I know that others are not willing to do it.  I play mind games with myself that it isn't that bad and that I can push harder especially when I know that the person I am passing is thinking: What the f*ck is that guy doing? This year at IMTX the temps were in the mid-90s with a heat index over 100*.  Throughout the run I was given a you look great.  Awesome pace.  Keep up the great work.  That motivated me to keep going and those comments would get locked into a vault and when I felt like I couldn't take another step I would pull one out and think: what if that same person saw you now?  Get going.  Mind games are that simple to play.  Think about hunting down the next person with a number on their calf that is in your age group.  Nobody within eyesight?  Make them up.  Do whatever it is you need to do to keep moving and avoid walking.  The simples way to do this is to go into the race with a very well-studied strategy.  Since Ironman races don't always go according to your strategy you will have to adjust on the fly and this is where the mind games happen. I remember on the third lap that I was starting to have severe foot pain but I also knew that there was a corner with music playing and people cheering loudly. I made the decision that I was going to dance at that corner if for nothing more than to get a bunch of screams and high-fives.  Those cheers were going to lift me up and move me past the pain in my foot and I was proven correct.  Once I got past that point my paces picked up and the pain in my foot disappeared. The biggest mind game I am playing today is the 'get comfortable with the uncomfortable.'  As you read in my post about meditation I have high anxiety when it comes to the swim.  Swimming the 2.4 miles is not something I am afraid of, but rather the treading of water.  Sitting there waiting and waiting and then the thrashing and thrashing and my heart rate climbs into an anaerobic state.  This has a domino effect on my ability to push on the bike and run and so I am doing what I can to make sure that the anxiety is not negative at the start of the race but instead turned into adrenaline that can be used for good.  Visualizing a calm and efficient start.  Seeing my wife's face so that I can bring my heart rate into a steady zone.  All of these things are going into play because I know I can swim a 1:15 but will my mind allow me to is the question.  My answer is yes and I will overcome my mind by tricking it into believing that the uncomfortable is comfortable. At some point during an Ironman, or any race for that matter, you will have a conversation with yourself.  Your ability to respond and take your game to the next level is what is going to allow you to push to the finish line.  Conquer your fears and fight the demons that will undoubtedly show up.

Do You Play Mind Games?

Are You Willing To Do What Others Won't?

Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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