Ironwoman Wednesday: Mental Strength

It’s Wednesday, which means Jamie at From Couch to Ironwoman, Michelle at IronwomanStrong and I are back for another Ironwoman Wednesday! If this is your first time here, welcome! Ironwoman Wednesday is a weekly link-up where we share our stories and experiences about various triathlon related topics. In the past few weeks we’ve discussed swim, open water swim, bike, run, transition, gear, nutrition and strength training [Check ’em all out HERE].


Today we’re talking overcoming mental barriers.

Some of the best athletes have said that they didn’t win because they were physically stronger than their competitors, but because they were mentally stronger.  I’m sure you’ve heard this before “it’s 10% physical and 90% mental.” This doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard physically, it just means you can’t ignore the mental side. I know this through my experiences as a health & behavior coach and from first-hand experience.

Here are 3 of the mental barriers I’ve been dealing with during Ironman training and I’m sure many of you have experienced too:

1. Lack of motivation: I want this Ironman. I want it at this point probably more than anything in the world, yet there are days when I wake up when I just don’t want to do the training. I’m tired, I’ve got other things to do, I don’t want to spend 3+ hours working out, I just don’t want to do it.

A few months ago, I heard Mental Skills Coach Carrie Cheadle talk about the Psychology of Suffering. One of the things she says is “Commitment is what keeps you moving when you have a dip in your motivation. Commitment to a goal means that the challenges you face along the way won’t cause you to veer off of your path – they are just temporary setbacks you have to deal with.”

IMG_6438No matter how much you love your sport, your motivation will dip at one point. The key is to not let that take you off course and away from your goals.

Always keep your eye on the prize, which in my case is experiencing this moment again, except that sign won’t read Ironman 70.3, it’ll say 140.6!

2. Fear:  Fear has been a big part of my life and it still continues to be something I struggle with. More than 10 years ago I bought a notebook that said “What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail.”

To this day that notebook sits on the bookshelf next to my desk reminding me to always keep pushing myself. You’ve got one life, make the best of it! Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, natural fear spiraling out of control, if you let it consume you, you will never achieve your dreams.

photo-2I wrote about my tattoo in my Open Water Swim post, but I think it’s worth repeating, when fear washes over you, it becomes such a debilitating factor. My tattoo reminds me that I am stronger than any fear that might wash over me, that I can do anything I set my mind to and that there is no reason to let fear get in your way!

3. Self-doubt:  This is a big one. So often we set limits to our own achievements, because of our own self-doubt. So often we convince ourselves that we cannot go any further, push any harder or achieve any more, just to find out that we totally can!

ObstacleSelfIf you read my Raleigh 70.3: Pre-Race events post, you know I spent a lot of time reassessing, reframing, refocusing and challenging my negative thoughts and working on creating positive ways to deal with negative or difficult situations.

Here are my favorites ways to overcome self-doubt:

  • Visualize Success: It’s exactly what it sounds like. You imagine that hill you’ve been scared of, that meeting you’re going to or that race you’re competing in and you walk yourself through it, visualizing what success would look like the entire way.
  • Mantras: Finding a word or a few phrases you can repeat to yourself when things get tough or when you get tired works so well! I often tell myself “You got this!” and now I have some awesome Momentum Jewelry -Make it Happen, Stay Strong and Dig Deep- to keep me focused! (Did you see my Momentum Jewelry giveaway?)
  • Positive Self-Talk: On Sunday I had the worst long run of my life, so of course my brain immediately went to a negative place. You can’t do this, you’re not going to be ready for this Ironman, why did you ever think you could do this? My brain spun into negative self-talk and I had to fight myself.I’ve been training 6 months, I told myself, one run isn’t going to take all of that away. I’m sure it’ll be unbelievably hard, but I want this, I can do this, I reminded myself.icanWhen I sat down on the sidewalk to gather myself on the last mile of my long run, I made the final breakthrough: this is exactly what is going to happen in Louisville, you’re going to be so damn tired and so mentally drained, but you’re going to get up and do it anyway, so I did exactly that on Sunday too. I picked myself up and finished the run, because a bad 16-mile run is still a 16-mile run and no matter how long it takes me to finish this Ironman, I WILL finish it and it is going to feel amazing!

How do you overcome your mental challenges?

  1. Something that helps me is something that I discussed a while ago–realizing that sometime fear is excitement in disguise. And sometimes fear is totally warranted! But I love that quote: Commitment is what keeps you moving when you have a dip in your motivation. Commitment to a goal means that the challenges you face along the way won’t cause you to veer off of your path – they are just temporary setbacks you have to deal with.
    That is so how I approach life in general. Some might call it stubbornness, I am going to call it commitment 😉
    My Happy Action today was giving my body a bit of a break but giving my mind a workout by working on some things at work. Not such a WHOOOOO HELPIN’ PEOPLE thing, but it was nice to really feel like I was killin’ it.

    • Thanks Megan! I’m so glad my words inspired you!! I’m currently struggling with a fear of riding on the roads alone. I know it’s a legit fear but at the same time I know I can be safe out there if I plan right. I know it’s just me getting in my own head. I’m making plans to ride with friends as much as I can but also know I have to tackle this fear. We can do it!! We got this!!

  2. The mental piece is NO JOKE. I am terrible at psyching myself out, even when I’ve put in all the training and am physically prepared. I really need to work on using your strategies to tamp down on all that. So far, my most successful strategy has been stubbornness/pride and going as part of a group. Kili summit night I was a mess and all I wanted to do was turn around, even though physically I was fine apart from being cold and short of breath (normal at 15,000ft+). But I was with a group and a guide that encouraged me to keep going, and my pride kept me from giving up if no one else was giving up (thank goodness the others were just as stubborn as me)! But I’d really like to find a way to stop psyching myself out in the first place so I don’t have to rely on others to keep me going.

    I’m so impressed with you and all the mental AND physical work you’re putting into achieving this dream of yours. I wish I could be there to see you in Louisville because I know you’re going to ROCK IT!

  3. Pingback: Lean Green Island Girl | Friday Five: Fitness Snapshots (Week 19 of IM Training)

  4. Hey girl, I stumbled on to your blog while googling images to create my inspiration/motivation board for next year’s Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. When I registered 2 weeks ago I had no idea how to breathe while swimming and didn’t own a bike but I know with every fiber of my being that I can and will cross that finish line next year. And this blog is going to help me get there. See that finish line picture of you at this year’s race? Look to the left. There’s a guy in a blue hat and a girl writing down bib numbers and finish times. That girl is me. I googled race pictures looking for inspiration and found myself. Call it what you will, but I’m taking it as a sign that I need this blog (and this post in particular) to help me experience that moment from the OTHER SIDE of the fence. So thank you. Thank you for taking your journey because it has now become part of my journey. (I hope that doesn’t sound creepy!)

    • Lindsey, I am so glad you found my blog! I can’t believe you are in the picture! First, thank you for volunteering. All of you volunteers made my race day amazing. Second, I am SOOOOO excited for you!! I loved every second of Raleigh and hope you love it too! You are absolutely going to cross that finish line and it makes my day to know that my blog is going to be part of your journey. It’s why I blog! I want to inspire others, encourage others and knowing I can play a part in your journey is awesome! Keep me updated on your progress and if you have any questions as you train, contact me any time! I’m so excited for you!

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