Coach Troy Jacobson offers Mental Toughness Strategies for the Ironman Athlete
Published Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Ironman training and racing is not for the faint of heart. Discipline, focus and mental toughness are just a few of the characteristics one must have in order to achieve success in the sport.
Some people are born with these skill sets, while others must learn them. Similar to training the body to go faster and enhance its ability to use oxygen and generate more power, the mind can be trained to tolerate higher levels of suffering and discomfort. The difference between crossing the finish line in first place or 10th is often directly related to what's going on between the ears, not in the legs. Ironman lore is riddled with stories of super physically talented athletes who fail to perform to expectations on race day due to mental and emotional letdowns, not shortfalls related to physical conditioning or preparation.
Over my 20 years of involvement with the Ironman distance as an athlete, and as a coach, I have discovered several mental strategies and 'truths' to aid in boosting your chance to achieve your Ironman goals. Here are a couple for your consideration:
1. "You'll pass out before you die." My high school wrestling and football coach would make this statement during really brutal practices. His point was that the body has defense mechanisms, or 'fail safes,' that prevent us from overdoing it to the point of death, and that our minds are the weak link of the performance chain. Of course, this is a little extreme and it's important that the athlete understands his or her limitations and makes a conscious decision to slow down or stop before causing physical damage. However, the point is clear… your body is capable of going much harder and longer than our minds usually allow it to. Accept this fact and you'll excel.
2. "Pain is temporary, yet Pride is forever." An often used statement, it means a lot to the Ironman athlete. How many times have you been in the heat of battle on the race course and have thought to yourself, "This really hurts… I am really uncomfortable and I want to slow down." Don't give in to that temptation, because nine times out of 10, you don't really have to slow down, it's just a momentary lapse in focus. Remind yourself of how hard you've worked to achieve your goal, and how tolerating a little bit more suffering will enable you to do it. When you cross that finish line, you can rest…but not before!
You need to work on your mental game as much as you do your physical conditioning in order to be successful at Ironman or any long distance endurance sport. Don't allow your mind to be the weak link in your performance chain!
Coach Troy Jacobson is the Official Coach of Ironman and a former pro with sub 9-hour Ironman Hawaii credentials. He has created the IRON FOCUS Audio CD to aid Ironman athletes of all levels to improve their 'mental game'. For more information and to download the FREE Iron Focus Workbook, visit www.coachtroy.com and click on the IRON FOCUS CD in the featured product section of the homepage.
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