Race Day and The Brain

Ironman South Africa is upon us. Not long to go now. Here are some things to think about before the race. Things that will happen and what to do about it.


I always think this is the most important question you will need to answer throughout the day. When the water is rough, the sea is too hot, the wind is too strong, the legs are not holding, the heart is straining, you will ask yourself this question. Why? Why do you put yourself through all this grief and discomfort. To cross the finish line? To keep a promise? Because you're an athlete of your word? To beat your nemesis? To fight all those voices that said you couldn't do it?

Whatever it is, when you're out there at the dark side of the university with the heat and wind hammering your every step, when the Coke tastes like sweet grit and water, when the shouts from the spectators come in as warbled cries, when the tears are streaming down your eyes, when the pain is unbearable, this question is going to be asked. And whatever your answer is, you better have it ready.


The race plan. To do or not to do? If it's your first or tenth Ironman, I think it is important to have some sort of a plan. The simpler the better. Key words are always good for the swim. It can be monotonous so it's good to have your words "smooth speed" or "easy does it" or whatever gets you into the zone. Or you can just zone out and get into the groove. Whatever keeps you relaxed and makes sure you are putting in the right effort. Not too fast. Not too slow either.

I find that my legs always commit mutiny on the bike ride. Especially the quads. I have found that cool water on the quads, earlier rather than later, keeps them happy for longer. Having an idea of your plans for each loop is a good idea.

Loop 1 - easy does it. Get the heart rate down. Get into an easy rhythm. Have your fuelling strategy practised and ready. No racing.

Loop 2 - keep the work rate steady and try to avoid the peaks and troughs. Relax the shoulders and the back. Stand every 10 to 15 minutes to give the quads and hammies a break. Get ready for the special needs and your fuelling. No racing.

Loop 3 - Get the fuel in. Keep your mind relaxed and easy. It'll be hard, no matter who you are and how much training you have put in. Be prepared to ease off or lean on the gas in increments. No racing.

Bricks and Legs

Jelly legs affect everyone. Concentrate on smaller, fluid steps as you exit T2. It's all about easy rhythm for the first few k's. No matter how good you feel, hold off the gas and stick to your plan before lengthening your stride.

The last 10k's of any Ironman is for those who want to race. Feel free to take the handbrake off at this stage.


The voices, I find, are always there. They start up a few days before the race. It's either internal or external. No matter where they come from, the key is to have the filters on. Yes, I know your childhood was difficult, that teachers held back your potential, that you scrub yourself in the shower every night to clean yourself of your inadequacies, that you have baggage from your adolescent years that few can imagine. An then suddenly you invent a niggle or think you are getting a cold, or think that something is wrong.

Ignore that mind-babble. All of that is interference. Your body anticipates the big task ahead and starts lining up those excuses. You don't think the boys in the trenches hear those same voices every time they charge the enemy?

The distortion, my good friends, is irrelevant.

The beauty about a good race is that you can leave all of that bad stuff behind. Clear your mind. Tap into the Love and realise that failure is just a word. The Here and Now is all that is relevant. History and Future are meaningless. Focus on the immediate. What should I be doing now, at this very minute. Whether it's clearing your workload to ensure you get enough sleep. Or taking your spouse for a quick coffee to ask for support in the next few weeks. Or getting your bike serviced. Or stretching. Or prepping the nutrition for the last big bike ride. Or getting all your vitamins in. That is important.

The voices come back on race day. They sound very rational and will tell you to slow down or invent a mysterious ailment or remind you of something someone once said about your weaknesses. Those are the voices you can smile at, and simply ignore. You have my permission.

A few thoughts......just before you get into the sea to test the water before the race, I want you to think about all the training you have done, think about all your loved ones and people who have helped you get to where you are. Then I want you to bottle that up and keep it inside.

Remember that this is the strongest you will ever be. Never forget that.

Now go out and kick some butt!

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