In the final weeks before an Ironman, athletes begin to decrease training volume, add pre-race segments to workouts, and consume fuels to fill muscles with glycogen.
Decreasing training volume frees up time normally spent doing physical training. While this extra time is good for your body, it can be tough on your head.
Sometimes the mind strays toward thoughts of uncertainty. This thinking may include doubts about preparation, the amount of money spent on the sport, the time sacrificed to training, and the simple uncertainty that surrounds a pending race day. These thoughts can conjure up overall feelings of self-doubt, fear, anxiety and pressure.
For athletes, patterns of thought and self-talk are major influences on performance. Negative patterns can defeat an otherwise physically prepared athlete. The patterns that begin in the days prior to race day are typically repeated during the race. A race is easily ruined if these patterns are self-defeating.
The good news is you can change negative thought patterns and improve your mental game. Top athletes continuously work on mental toughness—and you should too. This column covers three tools to help you improve your mental assets. Think of it as training your brain to complement your physical training. While the column is focused on mental toughness in training and racing, these tools are directly applicable as life skills.
Take notice of your self-talk when you begin to feel the mental and physical strain of self-doubt, fear, anxiety and pressure. Recognizing the thoughts that drive these negative feelings is a critical first step toward eliminating them.
Below are a few examples of self-talk that drive strong, negative emotions just prior to and during a race:
- The swim course looks really, really long. I can't swim that far.
- What if I have stomach problems? What if I can't keep food or fluids down? My day is ruined.
- What was I thinking, I'm no athlete. I'm not an Ironman/Ironwoman.
- I should have done more training to prepare for this. I didn't do enough.
Once you take notice of self-talk that makes you feel bad, ask yourself if those doubting, self-defeating statements are really true. Are they exaggerations or are the statements just plain false?
Can you replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk?
- The course looks long due to the situation. Something like an optical illusion. I've swum this distance before, in training and in previous races. I know I can do it. I will be fine.
- If I have nutritional problems, I will adjust. Everyone has tough challenges on race day; I am no different.
- I am an athlete and I've done the work to get here. I deserve to be an Ironman/Ironwoman as much as anyone else. Why not me?
- I did the best training I could manage, given my other commitments. I know others train more and some train less. The best times are not always achieved by the athletes who trained the most. Athletes must be smart about training and racing. I am smart.
Do Something About the Here and Now
Many mental meltdowns are due to thoughts and worries about something that has already happened or something you fear is about to happen.