I dissociated from the race and my mind wandered. I started thinking about the extra time I would have to fix up my house after the race, of all things. I slipped out of competitive mode and let my body slow down. After the race I was annoyed at myself for missing the opportunity to run a better time. I have always thought of myself as a tough competitor but gave it up that day.
The most challenging part of a race to mentally hold it together is at 60 to 80 percent completion of the race. This is true across all events and distances. Once past the 80 percent mark you can "see" the finish line and go for it with renewed vigor.
A number of strategies can be used to increase your mental tenacity during a race and help you stick with it when the going gets tough.
Discover Your Carrot
What will keep you focused and motivate you to push hard when the fatigue hammer slams down? Is it winning or perhaps a personal best time? My goal this year for the Ironman was simply to finish.
I could do that without suffering, so the goal did not provide the incentive to push to the end. I gave it up and slowed because I could do that and still accomplish my goal. Next time (of course I signed up for next year!) I am going to set my goal more carefully so I have to dig a little deeper to achieve it.
When the going gets tough you must keep your mind on the race, if you want to stay in the race. Focus your attention on technique, breathing pattern and how your legs feel. Check your stomach and keep track of your calories, fluids and electrolytes.
If you are on your bike, check your bike over. Continually give yourself tasks to focus on. Keeping your mind on the task at hand (the race) rather than a task sometime in the future (renovating your home) will keep you in the present moment and in the race.
Break it Down
This technique is an effective way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of the task you have set out for your body. Once fatigue has accumulated during an Ironman or 24-hour mountain bike race don't tell yourself "I have eight hours left to race" but focus only on the next mile or next 10 minutes.
Break the distance down into small segments and do a great job with that segment. Before you know it the finish will creep up on you. Using this method you can trick your mind and dodge the 60 to 80 percent slump period.