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The Mental Game

The muscles in my legs ached…
Kilometre 8 of 42 complete, the mind asserting itself as speed governor, “This hurts. Just walk for a while.”

Cheers from my friend, as I started cycling, warmed and encouraged me. The Ironman Sweden bike course is especially beautiful, perhaps bested only by Zell-am-See 70.3 in Austria (assuming clear skies & warmth). But the layout and weather patterns on Öland and north of Kalmar conspire to create hours of mostly headwind, which can be mentally draining. Regardless, the job is still the same–set the wattage and keep your head down. Despite their occasional grumbling, I was happy with the power output from my legs.

All year there’s been an underlying dread. “It’s just going to hurt. Why do this?”

If you read my blog post entitled Courage & Commitment you may have heard my doubts. 2017 has been an uphill campaign. Last year was draining: an early season half-IM, three full IM’s–6.5 weeks between each, and a continuously demanding training schedule wore me down. Together with my coach, we achieved my goals, but well-being rebounded only recently. Healthy headspace made its return during the marathon.

Prior to the race, I clearly defined my aspirations; one of which was to deeply experience the way that life expresses itself through me in the competitive arena. Intuitively, I knew that this was the key to completing the day and remaining grateful.

The crux came early in the run. Fortunately, my daily meditation practice rescued me. Like a fragrance from a flower, the invitation to relax the mind arose. The words of my best friend echoed, “The most important thing is to perform in each moment; every swim stroke, every pedal stroke, every running stride. Can you be present during the whole race without agonising over the result?” As the mind relaxed, so too did my body. I never quite achieved my desired running pace, but even in the midst of the leg pain I was actually enjoying the moment. I found myself in a three-hour running meditation. The mind tried to shut down the party a few more times over the next 30 km, but each time I invited it to relax, and the legs followed suit.

In retrospect, it feels like I got a mental-monkey off my back. Instead of screaming resistant thoughts he’s now by my side, holding my hand as we skip forward (er, still shuffling) with glee. Although time off is needed to heal the body, I’m feeling energised and looking forward to getting back to training. Plans for another Ironman are sprouting quickly.

PS: I placed 9th in my age group at Ironman Sweden/Kalmar. Kona qualifying slots for M50-54 rolled down to 7th place, which means that there’s no Ironman World Championship for me this year. Yet, my primary goal for the year is to build resiliency, vibrance, and durability. I feel quite happy.

Ironman Sweden-Kalmar
PC: Fredrik Hallsten