Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Gillian Clayton

GET UPDATES FROM Gillian Clayton
 

How to Mentally Prepare Yourself for Ironman

Posted: 08/13/2013 8:49 am

"Are you ready?" This is the number one most frequently asked question by your peers when Ironman is approaching. I guarantee it. And how do you reply? "Um, no, well, yes, but, I don't really know..."

Then you hop back on your trusty tri-bike and obliterate yourself with a killer five-hour ride and then declare yourself more ready than you were before that ride, eat a huge amount of food, and then pass out on your couch. But are you really ready?

Mentally preparing yourself for Ironman is an interesting venture. How do you do it? If you're like me when I started training for my first Ironman, I had no clue what was coming my way. All I knew was that I really wanted to do it.

So I plugged away at training, day in and day out, loving the good days and loathing the bad. I had done a couple of half Ironman competitions as "warm up" races in the year prior to the full Ironman. I'll sum those up for you.

In my first half Ironman, I had a panic attack in the swim. I couldn't put my face in the water (first open water swim, first time in a borrowed wetsuit), so I swam heads up crawl (read: exhausting) for the first lap (read: slow sinking). Then on my second lap, I became bold enough to swim face in water, entirely off course and had a kayaker ask me if I wanted to finish the race. I said "yes." I was third to last out of the water. My bike and run saved major face and spirit, and I decided I liked racing... until the next time I got in the water.

Race number two. The water was "cold" (now looking back, it wasn't). Again, I couldn't put my face in the water and breathe out. So, I swam the first 800m as backstroke. This was my first time doing legitimate backstroke. It was also my second open water swim, and second time in a wetsuit (although, this one fit). But again, dragging myself around the course, getting my face in the water, finishing the swim, were really my greatest accomplishments in that race. But going in, I thought I was "ready."

So why am I telling you this? Maybe I want to tell you that you can never be truly "ready" for an Ironman race. I don't think that's what it's about. But you can problem solve during the race, and that is what I think separates the good racers from the great racers who achieve much more than they ever thought possible. There are a few tricks that can help you bring your stress levels down (well, maybe up first, but then down) and put you into the best mindset to work your way through an amazing race.

Visualization is key. It's boss, in fact. Going into the race, I had swim anxieties. I still do. So, I started watching an excessive number of YouTube clips of Ironman swim starts. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you drop off a rollercoaster? That was my general response. But I watched them, hundreds of times over the course of the year leading up to my race, and slowly but surely, it started to help me learn that this wasn't something to be afraid of, that it was part of the race and I was
going to be a part of it.

As it got closer and closer, I would go through the race from start to finish in my head. Except, I would go through the start over and over again until my brain was "ready" to move onto the next segment of the race.

Often, my visualization would get stuck on getting pummeled by some big lug, or losing my goggles, or meeting Mr. Kayaker man who asks if I want to finish the race, or my worst fear of all, seeing weeds in the lake. But eventually, the repeating loop would finally move on and I would emerge from the water victorious, hop onto the bike and eventually move on to the run. My best friend told me once how good it felt to change sports -- from swim to bike, bike to run, something that has always stuck with me.

Then you cross the line. In my head, before Ironman Canada 2012, I thought to myself, if (if, if, if!) I win, I want to look up and enjoy the entire finishing stretch, look at the mad cheerers, high-fiving children, my family and friends, the sound of the announcer's voice, the heat of the sun on my back and throw my hat and sunglasses into the crowd so I could truly show people how happy I was. And would you believe it, that's exactly what happened.

You're going to be ready because inside you is the secret inner Ironman ninja you always knew there was. Rock it because you love it, ladies and gentlemen.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Stand At The Bar

    Rather than nursing a drink sitting down, belly up to the bar, or grab dinner at a high table with bar stools. <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20534367_4,00.html" target="_hplink">Leaning against a high stool</a> is a step up from sitting, but can be more comfy than standing all night, <em>Health</em> magazine reported.

  • Mini Golf

    This old-timey favorite is fun for kids and adults alike, and can burn 100 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/machineisorganic/6740536715/" target="_hplink">Machine is Organic</a></em>

  • Take A Swim

    You don't have to be Michael Phelps to get a water workout. Even some leisurely splashing around can shave off 200 calories, and it's a great way to stay cool in the heat, too! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/311692139/" target="_hplink">Joe Shlabotnik</a></em>

  • Build A Sand Castle

    Instead of just lounging on the sand working on your tan, get up and move around if you're at the beach this weekend. Bonus: Digging in the sand can be a surprisingly <a href="http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/great-summer-workouts?page=3" target="_hplink">good workout for abs and obliques</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/7200149722/" target="_hplink">Michael Bentley</a></em>

  • Dance

    Let the music move you when you're out on Saturday night. A little boogying can burn 150 calories in just 30 minutes.

  • Throw A Frisbee

    You're not chained to that park bench! If you're already enjoying the outdoors, why not throw around a Frisbee or a football, pass a volleyball or kick a soccer ball? It doesn't have to be strenuous -- you don't even have to be any good! -- but it will get you up and moving. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/458811240/" target="_hplink">Elvert Barnes</a></em>

  • Go On An Exercise Date

    If you've got a date night planned this weekend, skip dinner and a movie in favor of something that gets you off your rears. It doesn't have to be a trip to the gym or a jog -- it can be anything active you like doing together. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/78428166@N00/7283892652/" target="_hplink">Tobyotter</a></em>

  • Row A Boat

    Many local parks, rivers and lakes have row boats, canoes or kayaks available for rent. No matter your vessel of choice, it's a fun, seasonal way to burn some serious calories. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/inner-eye-photo/6849944748/" target="_hplink">Josh Hawley</a></em>

  • Play Fetch

    During the busy week, you sometimes might just let your pet out in the backyard to dig up his own trouble. This weekend, spend a little extra time moving with him. Play fetch, give him that much-needed belly rub or take him on an extra-long walk. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/footloosiety/4255290603/" target="_hplink">footloosiety</a></em>

  • Catch Up On A Walk

    If you've made plans to meet a friend for coffee, take your catch up session to-go instead and gab on a walk. Even strolling at a snail's pace will burn 85 calories in 30 minutes!

  • Play Bar Games

    Put down the drink for some foosball or pool if you're at a bar this weekend that offers it. Thirty minutes of pool can shave off 85 calories, not to mention you may save yourself a few if your hands aren't wrapped tightly around that pint glass. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/5842783313/" target="_hplink">Nicola since 1972</a></em>

  • Take A Hike

    Head for the hills! Depending on where you live, a hike can be a weekend expedition or a quick afternoon adventure. It's a change of scenery and a great way to spend some time outdoors. If you're feeling sporty enough to tackle some hills, you can burn almost 250 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4104101152/" target="_hplink">mikebaird</a></em>

  • Go Cab-Free

    If you typically find yourself hailing a taxi on the weekends, try hoofing it instead. If your destination is too far to make it on foot, try public transportation -- and leave the seat for someone else. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tmab2003/3180940701/" target="_hplink">TMAB2003</a></em>

  • Play Lawn Games

    If you have plans to barbecue this weekend, break out the lawn games to get you out of your seat. Try <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/lawn-games-calorie-counts-memorial-day-_n_1546462.html" target="_hplink">croquet</a> or badminton, which can burn more than 150 calories in 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessabc/5835828281/" target="_hplink">Jessa B.C.</a></em>

  • Go Window Shopping

    Those people who do their exercise walking around the mall are onto something. Whether or not you plan to buy anything, browsing around your favorite shopping center gets you moving -- especially if you decide to wiggle in and out of a few things in the dressing room. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmyharris/2774384836/" target="_hplink">jimmyharris</a></em>

  • Visit A Museum

    Spend some time strolling through the halls and galleries of your favorite museum. You'll give your brain a workout while you're at it!

  • Get Takeout Instead Of Delivery

    Pick your favorite nearby joint and walk to pick up your meal.

  • Wash The Car

    Sure, it might take a little longer than sitting through the drive-thru, but you get the pleasure of working those muscles a little bit.

  • Cook

    Instead of sitting at a restaurant waiting to be served, why not whip something up at home? You'll be on your feet slicing, chopping, mixing and more, not to mention cleaning up after yourself. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/janicecullivan/4262146921/" target="_hplink">mamaloco</a></em>

  • Plant A Garden

    A number of <a href="http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/lawn_garden/home_gardening/vegetables/Variety+Of+Vegetables+Can+Be+Planted+In+Late+Summer.htm" target="_hplink">fall veggies</a> are ready for planting now. Spending an hour digging, crouching, weeding and planting in your garden <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/memorial-day-chores-calories_n_1543691.html#slide=1018494" target="_hplink">can burn more than 300 calories</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7682623@N02/7343305940/" target="_hplink">auntjojo</a></em>

  • Take A Bike Ride

    You don't have be imitate the Tour de France! Even the most casual rides can burn 200 calories an hour. Don't own a bike? Many cities now have <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2011-05-08-bike-sharing-programs_n.htm" target="_hplink">bike share programs</a> that allow you to take a short spin for a small fee, and some parks have bikes available for rent, too. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chinny_chin_chin00/6137088467/" target="_hplink">machernucha</a></em>

  • Play Laser Tag

    Go old-school, and grab a group of friends to head to the nearest <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/make-fitness-fun_n_1465840.html#slide=921050" target="_hplink">laser tag</a> arena. You'll run, jump, squat, crawl -- all in the name of fun and (healthy) competition. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnzlea/324447996/" target="_hplink">shawnzrossi</a></em>

  • Go Rock Climbing

    With the increase in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/sports/the-sport-of-bouldering-climbs-in-popularity.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">popularity of bouldering</a>, you no longer need a load of gear (and experience!) to reap the fitness benefits of rock climbing. Try it out at a local gym -- you'll burn calories and seriously work those arm muscles. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/toolmantim/6728078909/" target="_hplink">toolmantim</a></em>

  • Go Bowling

    It's not just for dads in bowling shirts! Grab a pair of nerdy-chic shoes and aim straight. You may even wiggle a little arm workout out of it! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/junklab/68904368/" target="_hplink">junklab</a></em>

  • Start A Wii Fit Competition

    Dreaming of a couch-potato weekend? Turn that screen time into something more productive by challenging a roommate, spouse or kid to a Wii Fit boxing or tennis match. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sashawolff/3190273060/" target="_hplink">SashaW</a></em>

 

Follow Gillian Clayton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@gillianliz

FOLLOW CANADA LIVING