Ironman Triathlon training: Staying mentally strong

Staying mentally strong is just as important as working on your swimming, biking, and running skills when preparing to take on the Ironman Triathlon.

At times it can be difficult to stay focused on your ultimate goal of reaching the Ironman finish line. Month after month of seemingly never-ending training may even have you questioning if it’s all worth it.


The human body is basically a miracle and is capable of so much. The harder you push it, the harder it will try to stay strong for you and do what you ask of it.

At times however we simply ask too much of ourselves and our body will try and warn us when it’s time to back off. Those warnings often come in the form of twinges of pain that come and go.

It might be on and off knee pain, shin splints, aching arms and shoulders, or any number of pesky pains we are quick to assume are just part of the training process.

There are several different ways that people react to this. Often it is simply frustrating and has a way of making some people lose sight of the ultimate goal. They might think, “is it really worth it if I’m constantly in pain?”

Others will train through the pain because they live with the constant fear of losing all they have worked for.

Ultimately there is only one solution that makes any sense. It’s time to take a step back and give yourself a mental and physical break. It might mean doing nothing in the way of training for a week or two. However at the end of that break you might just be amazed at how good you feel and how anxious you are to resume training.

ironman swimmers at the start

The big day will arrive soon enough

So many times I have heard of the hockey player who was out of action for a week because of a serious flu only to return to the ice and have a career night.

Or the Olympic athlete who is forced into a 6-week rest because of injury and returns to win the Nationals and a spot into the Olympic Games.

What they really needed more than more practices or games or 2-a-day training sessions was a forced rest. There bodies recovered on many different levels and they came back stronger than ever.


There is no doubt that your social and family life could well end up being pushed to the back-burner as you embark on your Ironman journey.

You are torn between making it to the swim workout or spending time with your family and far too often pass up on the Saturday night out with friends because of the long Sunday morning ride you have planned.

You try not to let it bother you but deep down it does. There is a certain amount of guilt to deal with and there is no doubt that the Ironman journey often seems to be a selfish one.

I wrote in one of my books that taking on the Ironman challenge is the best selfish thing you will ever do.

Consider this. What if you are a 50 something business-man who never had an athletic bone in his body. You are out of shape and over-weight and not all that thrilled with the direction your life is going.

Then one day you see this Ironman thing on T.V. and are immediately Ironstruck and just know you have to cross that finish line.

You learn how to swim, get yourself a spiffy road bike, and start eating a proper diet. Your Ironman journey becomes all-encompassing and you become a new you.

Yes, your family and social life will suffer but all things being equal your quest for the Ironman finish line will ultimately make you fitter, more self-confident, and most likely do wonders for your longevity.

It will also make you more fun to be around because you feel good about yourself.

Although it may seem selfish at times to spend the time you do on your training, everyone who truly cares about you will benefit because of the positive changes you are making in your life.


Visualization is a remarkable tool that is often ignored by the week-end warrior. Olympic Athletes get it. They use it all the time to keep them mentally focused on their ultimate goal.

I remember reading an interview of Elizabeth Manley shortly after she won a silver medal in figure-skating at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. She said that for months before the Olympics she used visualization as a training tool.

She would imagine herself going through her entire long performance and in her mind she kept falling at the most difficult part of the skate. One day she said she finally got it perfect and that is the image she took to the Olympics with her.

Her long routine was flawless and she missed the gold medal by an eye-lash.

So when you begin to wonder if all your Ironman training is worth it try a little visualization.

keep your goal in sight

Visualization will help you focus on your ultimate goal

Lay down in a quiet dark room and imagine that last few hundred meters to the Ironman finish line over and over again and what it’s going to feel like when you get there.

Sometimes we can worry too much about the journey when what we should really be focusing on is the destination.


Remember that it is your husband or wife, your kids, your parents, or your friends who are your strongest supporters and are the ones most likely to be on the side-lines on Ironman day cheering you on to the finish line.

Don’t be afraid to take full weekends off from training to devote to those people in your life who are the most important to you.

You will not lose anything. In the big scheme of things it is not going to make one iota of difference if you take time off training to go on a mini-holiday with people you care about.

As I just mentioned, the rest will most likely do you more good than harm so really everybody wins.

If you are training for your first Ironman and sometimes question whether or not it is all worth it……yes, a thousand times yes it is an experience you do not want to pass up on if the opportunity is there.

The weeks and months of training will go by in the blink of an eye and one day soon you will be standing at the swim start waiting for the gun to go off and you will embark on a journey like no other.

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