It’s common knowledge that what causes fear is different things for different people, but when it comes to the Ironman the greatest fear might just be fear of failure.

As fit as a person is going into the first career Ironman, fear is often in the equation as the big day creeps ever closer. What causes fear can be one of several things, but there is no doubt it can be overcome.

As cool and confident as many participants may appear there’s almost always something that fills them with a certain amount of misgiving and anxiety.


For many, the ironman fear will be overwhelming as will be the self-doubt as they wonder to themselves what on earth they have gotten themselves into.

Its almost like diving off a high cliff. Once you’re committed, there’s no turning back. After all, everyone in your circle of friends family and co-workers know all about your quest for Ironman immortality.

For months they have observed as you’ve immersed yourself in your Ironman preparation. How can you possibly back out and face the people who have supported you as you’ve prepared for the race of your life?

Well, some people can and do back out. I recall one story in the early 80’s that took place in the Hawaii Ironman. Although what causes fear may be a mystery, it’s also surprising how different people deal with it.

what causes fear  -triathletes at sunrise before the swim

As the story goes……..At the conclusion of the swim portion of the race and all the swimmers were off the course, it was discovered that one person was missing.

In other words, someone who was signed in for the swim had not arrived. Apparently they searched the entire course with scuba divers looking for the missing swimmer and fearing the worst.

As it turns out, the missing swimmer had never entered the water. He decided he just couldn’t do it and left the transition area and went for breakfast at a local restaurant.

When he returned for his gear, he asked someone what all the fuss was about and then, much to the relief of all concerned, the mystery was solved. It’s obvious what this novice ironman’s greatest fear was.


It seems that the swim is particularly terrifying for many first time Ironman athletes. People have been known to stand on the shore in tears, unable to face the swim even long after the gun has sounded.

what causes fear  -Kona marathon course at sunset

The ironman will test you

Some have been coaxed into the water by volunteers and ended up doing just fine. Normally, just a few hundred meters into the swim, your nervousness will disappear and you’ll settle into the race. This is the power and the miracle of facing your fear.

Seldom does a person get the opportunity to experience the amazing exhilaration of conquering what causes fear for them–whatever it happens to be–and becoming a master of their own destiny. This is what the Ironman can do for you as you deal with what causes fear for you.

what causes fear

Kona Harbor at sunset

In my first Ironman in Hawaii, I’ll never forget the amazing euphoria in the transition tent after the swim. More than anything I believe it was relief because for many, myself included, a very big hurdle had been cleared.

As far as I was concerned that day, there was nothing that would stop me from crossing the finish line once I conquered the swim. There was no doubt the water was my ironman fear factor.


I believe that most who are considering their first Ironman are runners. Also, pretty well everyone has biked at one time or another in their life, but really few have had the opportunity or reason to swim in the open water.

So it stands to reason that a lot of first time Ironman triathletes are going to be extremely apprehensive about the Ironman swim and it’s definitely the number one ironman fear for most novice Ironmen.

what causes fear   -ironman triathlon swimmers

Typical Ironman Triathlon swim

I suppose some triathletes may fear the bike. Maybe steep hills or cycling around so many others will cause some concern. At least in the bike and run you have complete control.

You can just stop or slow down out on the bike course. I think its fair to say that in the swim once you’re half a mile out in the open water you’re pretty well committed.


Personally, I think much of a persons ironman fear grows all out of proportion as the race nears. Ironman preparation is much more than swim, bike, run. You must also prepare yourself mentally.

When you begin to have doubts about your ability, or when the fear of failure begins to haunt you, its time to take a step back and consider how far you have come. One of the best ways to deal with the fear of Ironman morning is to take stock of how much you have already accomplished.

It may not seem like it on race-day as you are surrounded by hundreds of athletes but in the big scheme of things, few people in the world will ever attempt what you’re about to do.

Believe in your training, your preparation, and ability. When the fear-factor is overwhelming as the race nears, regardless if its the swim or the bike or just fear of failing remember this important fact

what causes fear   -triathlon finish line

Crossing the finish line is a special moment

There are hundreds of other athletes who will feel the same as you on race morning. That’s one of the things that makes the Ironman so amazing. You are all on the same journey together and the goal is a common one.

It’s this united spirit that will help calm you and help you deal with what causes fear for you as you prepare for your ironman. You’ll understand what I mean as your first Ironman race-day unfolds.

There will be several thousand volunteers and thousands more spectators and friends and relatives who will all play a part in your amazing journey.

They will be behind you when your fear is greatest and your inspiration when you doubt yourself. They will give you strength when you tire and soon your ironman fear factor will fade away and you will embrace the day and all it has to offer.

You are truly amazing just to reach the start line of an Ironman triathlon. Just to have gotten to that point makes you a resounding success, so how can you possibly fail?

You have erased the doubts you once had that you would even find yourself on the beach on Ironman morning awaiting the starting gun. You are in the best condition of your life and have the admiration of everyone around you as you prepare for the greatest experience of your life.


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