HOW TO PREPARE MENTALLY FOR THE HARDEST TRIATHLON YOU’LL EVER DO
THE SAYING GOES that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. And while the good news is that we now know the science of why it makes you stronger, the bad news is that this makes absolutely no difference to the misery you must endure to learn the lesson. And therein lies the cruel paradox of full-distance triathlon. We enter willingly, we often exit smugly, but the journey in between is littered with physical and emotional experiences so awful that it’s a wonder we ever do it twice, let alone pay over $900 for the privilege. Sure, there are temporary moments of pleasure, gratitude and even a few pedal strokes of squealing delight, but the most dominant experience at the Ironman World Championship is getting battered for an entire day by unimaginable heat, humidity, wind and fatigue, all while pleading with your stomach to hold down whatever you throw in it. Anybody who tells you that they “love the pain” or “enjoy the suffering” is either a masochistic numbskull or has a dopaminergic reward system that resembles the sole of a worn-out shoe. Ask any Ironman athlete during a race about what they secretly wish for and it’s usually this: for it to end as soon as possible (preferably successfully).
If you’re headed for Kona, congratulations. But, statistically speaking, you’re about to get your ass kicked. This doesn’t mean you’re going to have a terrible race, or even feel dejected or disappointed about your performance; it simply means that you will almost certainly be visited by physical and emotional demons that make you question (in the moment) why the hell you do this to yourself. The purpose of this article isn’t to dig into these reasons. The deeper existential reasons about why we like to test our own endurance or the price we pay (literally and figuratively) for doing so are intellectually interesting, but practically useless on the start line. Our purpose here is much simpler: