I was listening to an interview with a guy who had turned his life around after being massively obese, sick and unhealthy. He was talking about how the start and the end of the process were the hardest. It really struck a chord with me, I thought it was very like the start and end of Ironman training. He said that getting going in the begining, building habits and making changes were very difficult initially but after a month or so it became normal, routine and much easier. We coach people how to do this in a sustainable way because we recognised that the first 4-6 weeks are critical for getting an Ironman training program going successfully.
He went on to say that losing the last 5% of the weight was also very tough, in fact it was probably the hardest. The temptation to stop before he reached his target was enormous. He had lost some crazy amount of weight like 50kg or close to it but he found the last 5 kilos the most difficult. And not just physically hard to shift, but mentally too. He was emotionally tired from months of working towards a goal and when he was that close he almost felt justified in stopping thinking to himself that “I’ve lost all this weight what difference does another 5kg make at this point” or “I’ve done enough now it would be ok to quit” I have often felt like this in the last 4-6 weeks of an Ironman training leading into the race.
As you get very close to a goal the motivation to continue pushing on often drops. You have less to gain, like the guy in the first example, and you are already very close to what you aspired to at the start of your journey. I often find the last month of training before an Ironman is the hardest from a motivation point of view. I usually feel fit enough at that stage to just go and race. I’m tired and want my life back. I want to have mornings with lie in’s and to eat cake. Lots of cake, and ice cream.
I think that if you’ve built your training plan properly though this is often the time when you either make or break your race. It’s when you really make it possible to have an exceptional day or it will just be another ordinary day at the office. The last 6 weeks is when I will reall start to peak. I am already feeling fast, fit and strong if the training has gone well but up to now it has all been designed to make me fit and strong both of which take a long time to build.
I think of it like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the fitness and this takes the longest to build but the more fitness I have the wider the base and therefore the taller I can go with the overall structure. The middle levels are all strength. They take slightly less time to build and to lose. The top of the pyramid is the peak and it trains up quite quickly, the downside is that you don’t hold onto it for long as you lose it the faster. Your peak can only be sustained for a short period and making sure it lands exactly on the one day that you just happen to be standing on the start line of an Ironman is very difficult.
Peaking at the end of a long build up to an Ironman is critical not just to get that last bit of speed but if you start to pull back and lose interest and motivation too early and start skipping sessions when it’s hardest to train you could actually peak before race day and start to lose fitness.
There are a couple of things I now do to make sure I don’t peak too early of fall off training before I should.
- Don’t aim for your taper, there’s still another 2 weeks to go. One of the critical things for me is to aim past the race. My break comes after the race, not during the taper. I made the mistake a couple of times to keep pushing through the last hard training block with the promise of a break 2 weeks before the race as I start to taper. The problem was I switched of mentally with 2 weeks to go. I had set the wrong day as the finish. Mentally I really struggled to get any sessions done for the 2 weeks of the taper. You’re not finished until the day after the race.
- What motivated at the start may not be the motivation close to the race as increased fitness makes ironman less daunting and seems more achievable. You may well need to swith your target as you get so close to your target that it is much less motivating. Picking another target if this happens can help to sustain motivation. Maybe racing against a friend, chasing a time, or aim for the best day you can have. What I mean by that is to aim to leave nothing out there, finishing knowing that you gave 100% is the best feeling you can have after a race. For me the most motivating thought is not letting Aisling down. She puts so much into my races, coaching, helping and building our lives around whaever the target is that I cant stand the idea of quitting on her. I want to be able to look her in the eye and be able to say I too did everything in my power to make sure I had the best race possible.
- Tiredness really becomes an issue as you are coming off the last big block, for me my motivation to train often drops as I get more and more tired and it’s at this stage that I have to dig in and use anything I can to get myself through the last few weeks. Fear of failure, fear of being seen as weak, fear of lettinmg Ais down. I use anything that keeps me moving as motivation at this stage.
Stay focused and keep pushing there is plenty of time, enjoy the lie in’s, cake and to rest when you are done.
I have written a report examining how 5 of the most successful Irish Ironman triathletes have qualified for Kona an incredible 29 times. You can access it free here.
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