08/13/2013 08:49 EDT | Updated 10/13/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Mentally Prepare Yourself for Ironman

"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.

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