Finishing an Ironman is all about getting through that tough 26.2 mile run, and half the battle is in the mind. Here’s how to prepare mentally…

The hardest part of any long distance triathlon is the marathon. Coming on the back of a gruelling open-water swim and over 100 miles of cycling – often including horrendous, energy-sapping climbs – it can be one challenge too far for the under-prepared athlete.

If you get your nutrition and pacing right on the bike, you should be in good enough physical shape to cope with the 26.2 miles between you and that all-important Ironman finish. But can you handle it mentally? With extreme physical fatigue comes mental fatigue. To get through this, you need to be as prepared mentally as you are physically. With this in mind, here are some proven mental strategies to ensure you achieve your goal.

1 Expect A Difficult Transition

This isn’t asking you to be negative, rather to remain realistic about how it will feel to climb off the bike after five hours (yeah, right!) or a good while longer. You will likely be stiff, achy, and not tremendously smooth. But that’s fine, because you expect this and it is the same for everyone. Accept that it will take time to move more smoothly and to find your rhythm. Maybe plan to take smaller, faster strides early on the run, then longer, stretching strides to help wake up your legs and get into your running more quickly.

Triathlon Running - Ironman

2 ‘Chunk’ your run

Break the run down into manageable chunks or stages, rather than seeing it as a single 26-mile discipline. Four to six stages tend to work best for most people. On a multi-lap course, half a lap could be a stage. On a single-lap course, you can use landmarks or mile markers. Focus on the current stage. Once you complete each stage, give yourself a reward: tell yourself well done, give yourself an extra couple of jelly babies, promise yourself another week off training… whatever works for you.

3 Review Progress And State

Don’t wait ’til the finish line (or a DNF) to review how things have gone. Instead, perform a progress review as you run. This helps identify problems before they ruin your marathon. There are a number of aspects to consider. Firstly, pacing: is it too fast, just right or too slow? Nutrition: are you eating and drinking enough? How’s your economy of movement: is it smooth or ragged? Have you shortened your stride? Lastly, how do you deal with any tension, stiffness and body aches – could you pause to stretch? You may want to conduct these reviews at the end of each stage or ‘chunk’.

4 Control Your Inner Dialogue

The run gives you plenty of time to think. Undirected, thoughts are likely to be about your discomfort, fatigue, aches and slowness. Take charge and think positively to keep your mood up, concentrating on things that help you move more smoothly and efficiently. Examples of positive inner dialogue that might help you include: ‘I’m doing well,’ ‘Keep moving,’ ‘Relax the shoulders a bit more,’ ‘Make less noise when my feet contact the ground,’ ‘I’ll be so proud of myself when I finish,’ and ‘This will be over before I know it’.