On a recent long ride, my friend asked me ‘What do you think about during an Ironman?’ I laughed because it’s not the first time I’ve been asked that question, but usually the people that ask me haven’t done any long distance training or racing. It’s pretty hard to contemplate putting your body through a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km run, let alone what your mind has to go through. The mind game intrigues a lot of people… Myself included.
So I asked her why she wanted to know? We were halfway through a four hour ride, Judith does a lot of windtraining and has a marathon history as well as triathlon training and racing, surely she has personal experience? Well she asked because her husband is about to race Ironman Australia, and he counts to one hundred continuously, over and over again for the duration of his races. One, two, skip a few ninety nine one hundred? I don’t think so, he actually counts properly! I was dumbfounded, probably couldn’t think of anything worse to fill my mind.
Only three days later I was at a pharmacy seminar on pain management, one of the topics they covered was the physiological and psychological aspects of pain. Low and behold one of the techniques they discussed about dealing with pain was ‘crowding the channels’ drowning out the pain signals with other thoughts or stimuli. When you rub a sting or suck a cut finger the actions are taking away from the pain signals, counting to ten was another way they described using your brain to take away the pain. Pain is a very complex topic but evidence shows that in some cases you can actually ‘think away the pain.’
Suddenly Rob’s technique for getting through an Ironman made perfect sense, it was more than something to think about for 9 hours, it was taking his mind off the pain, allowing him to endure the suffering. Smart guy really, but I don’t have that same kind of patience and concentration. So what do I think about on my long training sessions and races?
Songs (unashamed to admit this includes nursery rhymes).
When I’m riding I often have a song stuck in my head and the one or two lines repeat over and over. Last week when I had Allanis Morriset ‘Isn’t it Ironic’ in my head I was busted singing outloud, much to the amusement of a passing cyclist. Let’s just say the words ‘tone deaf’ have been used to describe my singing.
But worse, on occasions I have had nursery rhymes go round and round my head (like the wheels on the bus). There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die? Yep. The whole song on repeat in my head, from fly to spider to bird to cat to dog to goat to cow to horse… She’s dead of course.
Speed, pace, distance, estimated finish time, estimated total race time… If I travel at 27/hr that will be x hours, whereas 28km/hr will be x hours. I’ve travelled 115km in x time, there’s 65km left, I have to go at least x km/hr to be there in my goal time. During Ironman Malaysia my thoughts were all about calculations, distracted only by monkeys and heat. I don’t even remember much of the ride or scenery, from the 3 consecutive hills, the designated monkey zones and the searing heat, apart from that my mind was on the maths.
This one is mainly during training, especially on long runs, when I find myself imagining race day. I’m already looking forward to the run leg of Ironman Cairns, last year it was my favourite part of the day. The atmosphere was electric, seeing people I knew, so many cheering and high fiving spectators, chats with other athletes along the way, oh and the pineapple lollies at the aid stations, I really enjoyed that 42.2km. When I think about it I find myself not only smiling but absent mindedly speeding up whilst training.
Power and heart rate.
Perhaps one of the most ideal things to focus about if you’re concerned about performance, but one of my least favourites. I know watching the numbers is important, but for me it’s a sure fire way to make time go slower than waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave when you’re starving.
Quotes, mantras and advice.
I’ve written them on my arm, stuck them on my bike and constantly have a couple at the forefront of my mind. I highly recommend having a few mantras that speak volumes to you, so when you’re on struggle street you can read or repeat it.
I may have mentioned this once before in a post, but my wise friend Pip Holland (female Ultraman Australia winner) once told me that if I ever find myself drifting off or giving up in a race, to ask myself can I give 1% more? The answer is usually yes. Another powerful quote that has stuck with me was from Chris McCormack, he said ‘When the pain comes do you know what I do? I smile.’ Sounds crazy but I wrote a note and stuck it on my bike saying- when the pain comes and drew a smiley face. It made me laugh during the race when I wanted to cry, who says, thinks or does this ridiculously crazy stuff anyway?
Food for thought.
Usually it’s breakfast ideas on my Sunday morning long rides, and cold drink fantasies on nearly every hot day whilst running. Smoothies, fresh juices, iced lattes or mango SOS with crushed ice… All get contemplated and salivated over. The poached or scrambled egg dilemma is often a first world problem that I need to solve during my long ride. Add in a side of mushys, avo and fresh tomato served with Turkish bread and a bowl of cappuccino… That’s what Sunday’s cycling dreams are made of. Yet the coach expects me to focus my mind and legs on power and efforts? Oh please!!
Blog topics, photo opportunities and Instagram post ideas.
Ok there’s no denying this is where most of my bright ideas come to mind, I think up topics to write about (this one is a perfect example), constantly look for photo opportunities and if there’s a magical (or even terrible) part to the session, well the silver lining is that at least it might make a good Instagram post. The number of bike selfies on my phone is actually ridiculous, I never stand in front of the bathroom mirror and take a selfie, even looking glam, but have a crazy addiction for bikefies.
If you’re not an endurance athlete and don’t think you can really relate to any of this, next time you’re on a really long car trip without any company or music think about this post. Take note of where your mind wanders, what you end up thinking about. Then take a moment to imagine if your legs were pedalling a bike instead of pressing the pedals. Does that change things for your 6 hour road trip?
So there we have it, never worry about being short of thoughts during a long training session or race. I don’t think the time will come when I have to count to one hundred repeatedly, especially when I can think about the old lady who swallowed a bird (how absurd she swallowed a bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider that wriggled and wriggled inside her… TBC)
Until next time remember, you body can withstand almost anything. It’s your mind you have to convince.