Facing Your Demons

Interesting title, don't you think? I've been thinking a lot about this topic since finishing Ironman CDA and decided that it is worthy of a blog to provide you some good information about a topic that is often overlooked.

Demons, as they pertain to endurance athletes, are those negative thoughts, reflections and/or experiences that we encounter throughout our endurance sport journey. Whether it is during training or a race, they will surface eventually. I have coached many athletes who were truly gifted genetically but there was just something missing when they stood on the start line. The had mental tenacity but they let their demons consume their psyche and take them out of their race before it even began. Identifying, embracing and developing plans to overcome these demons will set you apart from your competition but more importantly, it will help you to succeed in life-not just as an athlete but as a human being.

I use personal experience often to describe things so let's begin with my most recent Ironman CDA demon experience. I raced Ironman CDA in 2004 with hopes of qualifying for Kona. I knew I would need around a 10-10:15 finish time. I came out of the water feeling ready for the day. I set a new PR on the bike by 13 minutes and was ready to run my 3:30 marathon (a modest pace for me) en route to a qualifying spot. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be that day as I experienced lower intestinal cramping on the run and was forced to walk a majority of the marathon, which took me 4 hours and 40 minutes! Crossing the line in 11 hours and 35 minutes was far from what I knew I was capable of on that day.

Fast forward to 2007 when I re-entered the Ironman world after a 3-year sabbatical. I signed up for the same race that broke my ego. Why did I sign up for it? This is another topic but let's just say that I live by the saying, "if you don't push yourself to the limit, how do you know where the limit is?". Needless to say, I needed to take this plunge mentally to prove to myself that I could overcome my demons.

Okay, so coming into my sixth Ironman, here were my identified demons:
1. Broken foot, only had 5 weeks of running preparation and poor bike preparation.
2. Negative experience which led to many demons on the same course three years prior.
3. Knowing that I lost my goal around mile 8 of the run in 2004 on the same course.

As Ironman CDA quickly approached, I did let my reoccuring demons surface from time to time but instead of dwelling on them, I came up with plans to quench their existence:

Plan #1: I am underprepared but not overtrained and for the most part, healthy without any hint of injury. My body is strong. Have confidence in my 14 years as an endurance athlete, five Ironman races prior and my ability to run long (proved by my ultrarunning introduction in 2005).

Lesson: Too many times we dwell on the negatives. Bad training days, stressful work days or not meeting our personal goals. When you think about it, you experience many more positives throughout a week than you do negatives. It is just our psyche (actually being human!) that constantly reminds us to focus on the negatives. Here's a trick: write down all of the positives you have in a week on one side of a piece of paper and the negatives on the other. You will be pleasantly surprised at the end of the week!

Plan #2: Forget about my 2004 race. What's in the past is behind me.

Lesson: How many times do you look in the rearview mirror compared with the front windshield when driving? Exactly. Let what is behind you stay behind you!

Plan #3: Don't visualize my 2004 run performance on the course at all.

Lesson: If you visualize something in your mind and play it over and over, your mind will play that scenario to your body. Visualize yourself getting a cramp or a flat tire instead of your proper nutrition and how to fix a flat quickly and you will only focus on the cramp or getting a flat. Focusing on the execution and solutions to possible challenges and you will have a better success rate. Don't underestimate the power of your mind!

After it was all said and done, I excelled at my sixth Ironman and finished strong, without issues and feeling fantastic. I was tired and fatigued but my biggest success was that I quenched my demons with a well thought out plan.

Identify your demons. Embrace them (it's okay), then make a plan to stomp them!

Coach Bob