IMAZ 2017- The Mental Game
Updated: Feb 12, 2019
I've been working on my mental and it's made a huge difference. Listening to the pros, absorbing the science and dialing in my mind.
As an age grouper athlete, it's often impossible to give more, physically. 10-hour days at the office, 2.5 hours’ worth of commuting. You have to eat, you have to rest, you have to clean your toilet and do laundry. Some days your TP calls for a high intensity run or bike or maybe 90 minutes of swimming, which really translates into 3 hours of travel to the gym, change, wait for a lane, swim, wait for a shower, shower, commute home off peak so add 30 min to the 75 minute commute, and your exhausted from... 10 hours in the office, getting a new ass hole chewed out by your boss, and having to say NO to friends ... again .. who only want to have dinner together... again. The logistics alone are mind boggling. Every single day packing your gym bag, packing your food, carrying an unsightly backpack full of dirty clothes, clean clothes for work out #2, snacks for getting stuck underground, your heart rate monitor goes everywhere with you, oh and I forgot to move the car...again. It's crushing. Some days you cry. Some days you laugh and some days you just close yourself off from the whole world because no one will ever understand why you’re doing this. And then you cry some more.
"You're crazy!" "When do you stop?" "You're a glutton for punishment." "You must get to eat whatever you want... you're so lucky." "Wow you look fit, must me good genetics?" "So how many miles is this one?" "You do Tough Mudders right?"
So being an Ironman is not about crossing the finish line and having Mike Reilly announce, “Patricia Steen from Brooklyn NY, You. Are. An. Ironman!" Sure. That's the dream that sends chills down your arm and forces you NOT to hit snooze at 4:45am. But it’s also the beginning of the mental training. How bad do you want it? You truly must be able to make that goal visible in your mind’s eye every day. That devil on your shoulder is real and truth be told, he's not all that evil. Don't you deserve to rest a little? Haven't you earned a glass of wine? Is it really going to make a big difference to your finishing time if you only run for 50 minutes instead of 75 in the dark at 5am? It's all cumulative and it's all mental.
My first IM was practice. Just finish. I did. I made a lot of mistakes. But I did it. My second was more practice, I made different mistakes, choked on my swim, nearly DNF’d 10 minutes in, but pushed thru. So successful by the standards I had set. Placid? Ahhh, my A race. I felt more prepared logistically than ever before. I’ve got this, right??? Wrong!!!! To me? In my mind, Placid was an epic failure. So many things contributed to a bad head following that race. My inability to swiftly remedy 2 flat tires. My belief that my family would be cheering for me some where... anywhere... along the route, and yes, getting an email from the coach 24 hours before my swim start announcing he was moving cross country... um... timing??? No Bueno Bro. I came home from Placid, my happy place, with my broken toe and a broken heart and a medal I wanted to chuck into the sewer. I gathered up every single podium award I had ever won and threw them in the trash as soon as I walked into my apartment. I got mad. I wasn't willing to settle any more. If I couldn't squeeze more time out of the day, I would make myself uber present in everything I was doing. Laser focus. This meant not only dialing in my workouts, but also, I had to stop wishing away the hours at my day job. The resentment was exhausting. I had to throw myself into everything that belonged to me. Warts and all.
The swim workouts with Ozzie were always torture. Always. He destroyed me stroke for stroke. I started to hate that pool. I still hate that pool, so I mixed it up. Purely for mental gain. I started doing swims at the Y one day a week. It helped. I stopped stressing over getting to bed on time. I would do what I had to do and get to sleep when I could. When my days were long and I felt like there was no way on earth I could do a CP test on a Wednesday night at 8pm? I applied the 20-minute rule. Get on the bike. Pedal for 20 minutes and reassess.
Late season races are especially tough. Every other athlete is done. Holiday parties are being planned. And here I am trying to figure out how the fuck am I going to organize an OWS brick in NYC when the beaches are closed and it's 40 degrees out? I needed to turn down the anxiety and return again to that post Placid feeling... no. I won't go back there. This is important so I will make it possible. Funny thing is, once you open yourself up to YES, I can swim in the ocean in October you find a whole new level of accomplishment. Which in turn bolsters your mental game.
So here comes IMAZ. I can't think of one thing beyond that finish line. Not one meal. Not one commitment. None of it is real until I cross that finish line. And you know what? For the first time, I'm not wishing myself to the finish. I'm wishing myself to the start!!! I'm not saying I can't wait for it to be over I'm saying I can't wait for it to start. So, in addition to being appropriately nervous, I'm excited. I’m going to be present every step of that race. It will hurt and I will be at home in that hurt. That's where I belong. At one point on the bike, early on, it was already tough. Head wind, cross wind, heat, I became doubtful, “Did I make a mistake riding this disc?” And I was suddenly overcome with gratitude. I said a prayer of thanks to God for my ability to suffer. And that was my day. I pushed knowing the pain was what I had to experience. Mathematically a 12-hour race was just barely out of grasp. But it was my goal. It's what kept me moving hard. Embracing the pain, and there was a lot of it! Trust me!
The last 800 meters of my run I'm guessing my brain knew I was close and started closing down anticipating the halt. I literally collapsed in on myself. My back curved into a C . I couldn’t lift up my head and I was flailing my arms in conclusive gestures to just keep running. Bent over, looking down at the ground because I could not stand up, I saw my feet twisting one after the next and was suddenly so confused as to how they were still moving? It was dark. Very dark and a volunteer was screaming " one more turn, you’re almost there!" And as I turned left I was suddenly on the Ironman carpet, lights burning bright in my eyes but still struggling to move. Truly near convulsions I could barely control my body anymore. My brain screamed so loud, "Do not fall. Don't you dare go down now!" And I hurdled myself across the finish. I mean I literally threw my body left, right, left right, twisting one toss at a time to the finish... where I promptly collapsed onto a medic and was whisked away, wrapped in several silver blankets and force-fed chicken broth.
Mental game wins.