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Confessions of an Ex-Ironman

Written on April 24, 2008 at 7:59 am, by Eric Cressey

I have a confession to make: I’m an ex-Ironman. Sure, in late July, 2006, in Lake Placid, NY, I crossed the line following a 140.6 mile endurance event, but, following that race, mental weakness prevailed. This story shouldn’t take away from the accomplishments of those who have tried and missed, succeeded once, or succeeded many, it’s a lesson I learned from the heart of sport (not just triathlon). You see, training for any event takes many successfully repeated steps, over a long period of time; nothing of merit can be accomplished in short bursts of over-enthused effort. The mental divide between these two approaches is immeasurable.
The ability start a long-term training program months to years before the true pay-off is a hurdle in and of itself, but, an athlete must package that with the same mental strength to overcome the tests of each daily workout. 52 weeks from your first event, pulling only five reps when you sat down for six might not seem like too much of a miss, but 52 reps later… you’ve missed a lot. Ask yourself: When you’ve set your mind on six and you come away with five… we’re you listening to your body or your mind? Is it the same? There’s the rub.
The most successful people accomplish their goals by delaying gratification; as a species that has survived by seeking instant gratification, this is no easy feat. The strength effects, from that one missed rep may be minimal but that mental decision, to avoid a second… or two.. of pain, creates another mental brick that must be broken. Not only are you not getting that strength benefit, you’re actually working backwards in the mental game. The mental game is hard enough, there’s no need to make it harder.
Leading up to my 2006 Ironman, I had days where I set the bar down early, took a bit too much time between sprints, or didn’t bring my “A game” to my training hours. With 13 miles left in the closing marathon, I thought I had passed the brick wall… then it hit me. I was dehydrated, hungry, and my legs ached more than words could describe; my mind told me to stop running. I should’ve been prepared for it… 13 miles… the last few reps, but I started walking… and I wouldn’t get back to running until that last half mile to the Olympic Oval. Eventually crossing the line, the glory was still there [and still is], but the mental defeat would keep me away from triathlon over a year. So here I am, a year and a half later, building back to register as a born again Ironman. Watch for mental bricks. Long term, dedicated training is more about the metal accomplishment than anything else; it’s a commitment to your goal.

– Jon Boyle

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