A few weeks ago, I endured an extremely hard Ironman race. Now, I must clarify what I am defining as “extremely hard,” especially with relation to an event that the majority of the general population defines as “extremely crazy” in its own right! This Ironman race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) was blessed with temperatures reaching 112 degrees Fahrenheit during parts of the bike and run, as well as a wonderfully cloudless sky to provide an extra boost of sunburn.
The DNF (did not finish) rate for this triathlon reached 25 percent, leaving the hopes and dreams of many participants crushed and their goal of a finisher’s medal delayed for another day. However, that means 75 percent of the field pushed through the day and completed the race. I am proud to be part of that 75 percent and can honestly say it was the hardest Ironman race I have ever fought to finish.
Post-race, I was sitting with one of my friends, basking in fulfillment, when she posed the question, which would eventually become the most commonly heard inquiry for the next few weeks: “What were you thinking?”
The mind and body connection of an athlete is an amazing dynamic. Many people are blessed with incredible motor skills and ability, but the final piece of the equation lies in the head. Athletes spend hours and hours working on their bodies, their fitness, and their strength yet somehow ignore the key component that brings it all together. Strong, positive mental strength will always be the final factor in the outcome of a performance.
What went through my head on that Ironman day? Here are a few of my favorite quotes from well-known sport icons, and how I actually use their views in my own day-to-day training.
“You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.” – Arthur Ashe
Most of my workouts are done on my own. I love a group environment, but the reality is that daily life, work, and family don’t always favorably lend to meeting others for most training sessions. When the alarm goes off for an early morning run, it’s my own mind that I’m battling with to make it out the door. While I’m great at finding every excuse in the book as to why I should stay in bed, I know that if I don’t overcome that little demon inside and do the work necessary, I will not achieve my own goals. Once I’m out the door and moving, I’m suddenly reminded of how much happiness I gain from pushing my limits to become a stronger athlete.
“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” – Laird Hamilton
It’s race time, and I’ve done the training and prepared to the best of my ability. I am out on the course and my body is starting to rebel. My legs are starting to hurt, my heart is pounding out of my chest, and my self-doubt is starting to surface. That’s the moment I recognize what is happening and make sure my worst enemy isn’t between my two ears.
I look around at my competitors. There’s nothing different about what I’m going through versus anyone else on this race course. It’s the recognition of this concept, and the ability to ask myself one honest question: Am I doing the best job I can at this moment?
If I can answer that question with a “yes,” then I am successful. I am able to push through and make progress while not allowing my head to become my enemy. Instead, it becomes my ally.
“It’s all about the journey and not the outcome.” – Carl Lewis
The reason I participate in so many different activities is because it all brings me pure joy. The time I get to spend with my friends on a bike ride, or go for a swim during a hot summer day, or run with my training partner on the trails fulfills me as a person both mentally and physically. These are the moments that bring me elation and calm my everyday worries. Ultimately, the destinations I get to see, or events I toe the line at, are all the culmination of my journey.
Let’s get back to my Ironman day and that question, “What was going through your head?” My answer is everything was going through my head, but it’s how I handled those thoughts that made the difference. I was prepared to detect any negative self-doubt talk and was able to correct it during the race. I had the ability to overcome what could have been my own worst enemy and instead allowed myself to rejoice in the fact that I was doing the best I could at that moment. I was reminiscing about all the great moments I shared training with incredible friends and those who were in my heart as I pushed my body toward the finish line. The ability to use both my mental and physical strength together in harmony is why I can say I belong to that 75 percent statistic, and I am incredibly proud of the result.