The Battle Inside
Prepare your mind to get the most out of your body with these tips and experiences from Ironman champions.
By Torbjørn Sindballe, two-time ITU Long Distance world champion
I finished the bike and knew I was in for a brutal day. Stars spun wildly around my head the final 20 miles of riding as I crashed through dizzy spells and fought to remain upright. My legs were powerless and my muscles were buzzing with soreness. Every hill devoured me.
Like hitting a thumb with a hammer, my body had become numb to the constant muscle firing forced by my will power and desperate need to compete. While clawing through the pain, I had lost three minutes in the last lap. Although I was leading, my internal situation was as grim as hanging from a cliff.
I was still in the black zone when my feet started pounding the pavement. I doubted I would be able to finish. In the punishing sun and 90-degree heat, the 30 kilometers of running stretched out in front of me as might an implausible nightmare. As I passed T2 after the first 3K of running, my coach, Michael, yelled, “Twelve minutes!” The voice in my head responded, “Twelve minutes? What’s he talking about?” I was convinced my lead had shrunk considerably after my miserable last lap on the bike. A few seconds later I saw Craig “Crowie” Alexander coming out of T2, starting to chase me from 3K behind. My lead was in fact 12 minutes. Wow, even though I got the hammer, everyone else was struck harder and let up five to six minutes in the last lap. Despite the miserable state of my body, the gigantic lead knocked me into race mode again. I willed my legs to move faster. There was no jump, no spring-like feeling in my legs; I just tried to motor all I could. I had no idea why nothing clicked into gear despite taking down fluids, salts and energy to rebound.
A few kilometers into the second lap, I passed Michael again. He yelled, “Crowie is closing fast—seven minutes down.” Crowie would catch me if things stayed like this. I surged. I found a threadbare rhythm for a few kilometers and motivation from my experience that chasers usually slow down on the second lap, so if I kept pushing I had a chance. My legs were starting to cave, my quads where gone and I began sliding into the place where I feel like I’m running on big stiff painful logs of heavy wood that are driven forward from my hip without any hint of technique whatsoever. A few kilometers later my calves started to buckle and my core with it. I was running on will alone. I approached the final 10K lap and Michael’s voice rang out: “Three minutes, 10 seconds. Come on, you can do it. This is it. Come on.” Had I been functioning closer to normal, the race would have been a done deal. Not this time, however.
With 9K to go I went into what I call “the black hole.” For energy I relied on mental images of my family and all the work and sacrifice I had given in training. I focused on every tree and every turn like rungs of a ladder, prying myself along and inching through the course. I would think, “Come on. Run as hard as you can to that corner.” At first, I could keep it going for a quarter of a mile but the pain would break my concentration. Thoughts of quitting seeped in: “Stop. Sit down and have a Coke. Call it quits. Slow down.” Negative thoughts poisoned my mind. Within the final 5K I bounced between doubt that I would make it and belief that I could. A bit of breeze or a patch of shade from a tree would lift my mood for an instant, but it would always collapse a moment later. It was push, collapse, push, collapse, push. I had no idea whether Crowie was closing. Finally within 2K of the finish, I started looking back. I could not see him, but I might have missed him. The finish line approached. I looked back over and over again. No one in sight. “Keep pushing,” I told myself. I tried lifting my arms over my head as I ran up the last 100 meters to the tape, but I just couldn’t. I crossed the line: ITU long distance world champion for the second time. I sat down in the nearest chair. I rested my head in my palms and started crying. I couldn’t celebrate; I could scarcely speak. I had given everything…
For more on Henderson’s training philosophy, how to get mentally tougher and much more, read The Triathlete’s Guide to Peak Performance, by the editors of Inside Triathlon magazine.Pages: 1 2