Ironman training: all about the mind (and the chamois cream)

With five weeks to go until Ironman Lanzarote, I decided to take a week off to train on the course. Although I'd done the bike course in February, I wasn't feeling confident: still a little bit scared of the course, still a little bit concerned about making the bike cut off time.

I told my coach I wanted, needed, to do the course again. He said he didn't want me to do the course once, but twice... no actually, three times. I laughed. But hey, with no cycling on the days in-between, just a little swimming and running. Of course, there'd be short swims before the cycles, and runs off too. (Oh, he's serious!) He gave me one "I'm allowed to bail" card, which could be used on one of the three big days. Did I want to do this, he asked. It looked like a challenge and a half, how could I say no? I said I'd like to try.

Bike course day #1

Ride data (Summary: 7hrs 52mins / 168km)
Mind was distracted to start. Body was not acclimatised to the heat: after a few hours my stomach bloated, and pretty much refused to take on or absorb the fuel I was offering it. I felt on the verge of vomiting for the second half. </p>

Often times the aero position is perfectly comfortable. Other times, it just seems unnatural. I'd liken the feeling to sitting in a chair, curled over with your elbows resting on your knees. Eating and drinking a little every 20mins or so, for 8 hours. Then standing up and trying to run.

Highlight: the sweeping descent from Mirador del Rio to Arrieta, where I realised I was chasing a car. A small car, perhaps carefully driven, but a car nonetheless. Surely this was a sign that my confidence on the bike was up?!


Needs work: mental preparation. Nutrition: lead up and during


A friend I'd made from the trip to Aguilas in January, David Deak, bless him, made me a wonderful nutritious feast that night. I never thought vegan food could be so tasty.

Bike course day #2

Ride data (Summary: 8hrs 14mins / 173km)
Reflecting on the bad day #1, I realised that although ‘off work’ for the week, I had been tinkering with a code issue until around 9pm the night before, that remained frustratingly unresolved. In preparation for round #2, I made the effort to get my swim and run done in the morning and relax for the rest of the day, preparing my body and mind for the next day. The most stressful part of this pre-course day was locating the best ice-cream parlour in town.</p>

Thanks to some recent chats with my friend Gustin, I'd also started meditating at the start of the day. Clearing my mind certainly helped in preparation for the mental workout ahead.

I was aware of the fatigue in my body, but generally felt good on the bike. My mindset was focused and positive and I really enjoyed the ride.

Highlight: noticing how my response to the wind has changed. When a sudden cross gust nearly whipped the bike from under me, I said "Hey! That was a bit cheeky!". (Yes, I talk, out loud, to the wind.) This is a big change from stopping dead. Through practice I've got better at accessing risk; having learnt that one problem with being too cautious is it breaks momentum. I'd like all the momentum I can get.


Needs work: drinking enough.


Bike course day #3

Ride data (Summary: 7hrs 51mins / 171km)
To say I was getting uncomfortable on the saddle would be an understatement. Previously not really an issue (I use an ISM saddle), but it has been the one change following a recent bike fit that has taken some getting used to.</p>

My thought process for the first few hours was pretty much: Ow. Drink. Ow. Just keep going. Ow. Drink. Ow. Just keep going. Ow. Drink. Ow. Ow. Ow.

I started getting frustrated that my power output was looking poor, my mind started playing the "this is crazy, just stop" game. I tried to tell myself the line @timocratic had told me recently, "pain is just a sensation". I tried repeating those words over and over, to no avail, I still hurt.

I seriously contemplated using my "I'm allowed to bail once" card. Thing is, it's actually not that easy to bail - with no public transport in sight, you'd have to cycle a few hours to even get to a town with a taxi.

Having taken splits for each key stage along the course each time, I have the numbers ingrained in my mind. So I knew it would be an hour and six minutes from the here to Teguise, where I could abandon the course and take a road back. I could stop at the petrol station there and decide. I revised this plan within minutes, conscious this was too far away and resolved to make it to Famara beach (only 22mins away). There I would have a proper stop and contemplate my next move.

I sat on the roadside, broken, contemplating whether I would continue... did it even make sense? Would my performance be so weak that there was even any point in forcing myself around? I sent a friend a text message to say I was just going to bail, and started up again before I could see any response.

On the exposed, steady slog of a road to Teguise, a few thoughts changed my mind. I had that tongue-in-cheek thought of "Worst. Day. Training. Ever." and quickly realised that of course it wasn't. I remember the worst day training ever quite clearly. There was a lot more in my favour today.

Critically, I changed the question. "Do I want to keep going for another five hours or quit?" wasn't a helpful question. So I adjusted my mind set to "Can I work for the 44 minutes it will take me to get to the top of Haria?". I also promised myself a cake stop at the top.

Simply making the decision to commit gave me a real energy boost. Cheesy as it might sound, making the effort to consciously tell yourself you are strong really works. At each split, I could commit afresh to working for the next X minutes. I could become absorbed in the activity; focus on the turn of the cranks; just be in the present.

I finished feeling confident and had the strongest run off the bike that week.

I proudly informed my coach that I had completed all three sessions. He replied, "bet you're not scared of the course now?". No sir!

Main take aways


Tell your friends where you're going and when. Apart from for general safety, if you're lucky they'll send supportive, funny, cheeky text messages that'll give you a smile at each stop.

Whatever thoughts come in, acknowledge them, then let them leave. Stay in the present.

I remember once reading a leading triathlete say, "I find out who I am when I race". Maybe I haven't raced enough, but I'd say, I find out who I am when I train.

For anyone who likes to look at these things, I should mention that the heart rates on my Garmin data went way off accurate.