Spending a full weekend seeing one triathlete after another cross the finish line at the Century Tuna Ironman Philippines 2018—the country’s first ever full-distance Ironman race—will make you rethink a lot of your life choices. We sure did.
This introspection happened on the sidelines of the race, as we were eating hotdog sandwiches that were nicely grilled with lots of relish. As we bit into the tasty treat, we thought, “Damn, we’re going to have to give this up?” Which led to our next question, "Do we even have what it takes to have the same will as these triathletes?"
Triathlon, after all, is the ultimate test of endurance, even more so if you’re gunning for the full Ironman distance. Just imagine swimming close to 4 KM in open waters, biking 180 KM, and then topping that off with a 42.2 KM run—all of which needs to be done in under 17 hours. Being awake for 17 straight hours is a struggle, imagine doing all that physical activity?
As with anything that requires you to be physically fit, putting in the work is key. Reaching a goal like finishing an Ironman race also requires a different kind of commitment: a mental one.
Speaking to serious and casual triathletes at a forum during race weekend, six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott and three-time winner of the same event, Craig Alexander both shared that even those who are in the elite levels of fitness hit walls mentally. They both agree that the mind needs to be prepped, too.
The two Ironman legends shared these four tips that can help any guy sharpen his mental fitness. Follow these whether you just want to look good for your next beach trip or if you're looking to get into an endurance sport like triathlon.
Whether you’re just starting with a fitness routine or already have training experience, there are points where you’ll feel like things are not progressing. According to Alexander, self-awareness is key to keep you going. “The best asset for any athlete is self-awareness. Obviously, in what you need and ultimately to deal with your weaknesses—you have to know what they are,” he shares.
To have that kind of discernment, you must think of your workouts as getting to know yourself more. “It’s like any job, you develop skills and you learn to control any emotions, [like] anxiety because that’s stress that gets to your energy.”
Create your own mental road-map
For endurance events like triathlon, the actual race can truly be daunting mentally especially if you look at it as a whole, and feel fatigue set in. Internal pressure can cause a lot of self-doubt.
The solution, Scott explains, is to map it out into smaller segments. He shares how to strategize in an Ironman race, which can also work for training for any sport or fitness goal.
“If you break the race up into segments and you have a mental roadmap of the course, you now have these pieces and you can psychologically manage. Breaking it down into segments doesn’t feel like it’s so consuming,” he says. Start by setting smaller goals which lead to a bigger one, achieving each step helps with motivation to keep going.
Always think quality over quantity
Time is often a problem for most guys when it comes to fitness goals. Rather than sweating out what’s lacking, think of maximizing every session with quality work. “I coach a lot of athletes who don’t have a lot of time and how do you maximize your potential in a short period of time? A lot of the shorter stuff that we do at a higher intensity translates to being more aerobically fit,” shares Scott.
Your move: make each session count. If you can only do a short session, push yourself to do more. The more quality workouts you do, the faster you’ll see results.
Find wisdom in a second opinion
If you find yourself stumped or unsure if you’re on the right track, consult a coach or an experienced athlete. While it may cost you extra, the takeaway will be crucial to your continuous progress.
“Talk to an ex-athlete who’s experienced what you’re going through or a sports psychologist if it’s the mental aspect of the sport you’re trying to improve on. There are experts you can tap into to get advice,” adds Alexander.
But ultimately, Alexander says, it’s still up to ourselves to will things through. As for us, we vowed to lay off hotdog sandwiches for now—and rethink more life choices from here on out.