After graduating from college in 1976, I became a workout machine. I lifted weights, swam, ran and rode my bike everywhere. Entering my first marathon in Sacramento in the fall of 1979, I ran the race shirtless, drank a few sips of water and just locked into a pace that delivered me to the finish line in a time of 2:45.
It was then I realized that I was an endurance athlete.
In 1978 I heard about a strange race called The Ironman, held on the island of Oahu. It piqued my curiosity. By the spring of 1979 my close friend and training buddy, Mike, convinced me that I couldn’t simply be a “participant” in the Ironman, but I’d actually have to “race” this novel event. That was Mike’s mandate… and I agreed.
For me, being a “completer” was never an option; I was to be a “competitor” or I wouldn’t enter!
I attempted my first brick workout about 6 weeks prior to the January 1980 Ironman. I designed my day around a local 100 mile bike ride, followed by a 20 mile run and topped off with 5000 yards in the pool (okay… that was a bit excessive on the swim!) The day went well, but I knew that the Ironman would be the supreme test of my stamina, strength, focus and endurance.
This photo — nearing my first Ironman finish line one hour ahead of second place — was a great start to my triathlon career. Buoyed by my performance, my motivation to do another was immediate and almost all-consuming. I just knew that I could go faster!
From those earliest days there have been a handful of memories that I’ve held close and shared with my athletes over the years. But two lessons, in particular, have empowered me — and, hopefully they’ll guide you, too — to the best performances possible.
1. Eliminate All Fears. You control your destiny, so there’s never room for fear. Whether it be fear of failure, fear of disappointment, or even fear of success… there is simply no room for fear in the mind of a well-prepared athlete. Your consistent execution of a well-constructed training plan in the months prior to your key race will inoculate you from the corrosiveness of fear; it will also reinforce your confidence and erase self-doubt.
2. Ignore the Pain Because It Doesn’t Exist. As an athlete “pain” was never in my vocabulary. During a race, I could (usually) convince myself that it simply didn’t exist. Pushing myself beyond the reasonable boundaries of “extreme discomfort” — and holding my effort there — was always my ultimate goal. I’ve always been convinced that the pain due to high intensity was primarily in my mind and therefore could be controlled. How deeply could I descend into the “pain cage”, and to what degree could I manage the discomfort?
That was the magnificent game of Ironman.
Managing fear and pain are learnable skills. No matter your level, you can refine your ability to deal with anxiety and discomfort through purposeful training and visualization exercises. Let me know if you’d like me to delve deeper into this subject in future posts.