• Mojo

DNF in Ironman: A tale of mind over muscle

Austria 2019

In the main, triathlon training for this big year, in which I will race in 3 x world championships, has gone very well.

With relatively few illness and injuries since racing the ITU Worlds in early May, some nice UK weather, discovering stronger biking legs, and a new found love of swimming as I start to improve, I would say its gone to plan.

So I arrive in Klagenfurt for the iconic Ironman Austria on 7th July, and to my dismay, disappointment and total confusion, I DNF after the bike leg.

In an attempt to investigate why this happened in the weeks since this race, I have made several discoveries that I wanted to share with you, in the hope it may help with some race prep.

I dont feel very comfortable talking about myself in a blog, but just to add some context that may help you in the future, I will set the scene….

Going through the motions

I couldn’t have been more prepared, as this wasn’t my first rodeo, as they say 😉

Packing had gone well. My bike experienced a knock on the flight over and needed some minor gear adjustments, the accommodation was quiet, eating was going well and the recce of the swim and bike was great (if you ever get chance to experience swimming in Lake Worthersee in Kalgenfurt you must do it. Simply beautiful.)

Registration was quick and painless, and all was well with the physical prep for the day. On race morning the usual 4am porridge was consumed, and into T1 I checked the bike, pumped up tyres, utilised the porta loos ☹ and got to the start.

My skinsuit was on (non-wetsuit swim, too warm) and I set off to the swim ‘pen’ to get started ....

The dreaded DNF

The 3.8k swim was good (for me!) The course was an easy box shape with the final 1k swimming up the canal with lots of friendly support on the banks.

Exiting the swim I was gaining confidence as I looked at my swim time. Leaving T1 with my bike and I hear I'm top 10 in my age group (just to clarify the aims for this race wasn’t to qualify, but for fun, to try some new things, and race hard)

An hour into the bike I hear I'm 1st in my age group, which I was delighted about, in between the ever increasing negative and uneasy thoughts that appeared to be filling my head for some reason.

Then an hour into the bike it all went wrong. I can only describe it as someone opening the door to all my energy and it flooded out over the next hour. No matter how much I ate and drank, or tried to drag my thoughts back into positive vibes, it was like fighting a loosing battle.

Needless to say, by the time I got off the bike, in a crazy storm that had brewed and unleashed, I was 90% sure I wasn’t going to get onto the run. Worried it was a virus (as I had previously suffered with at Vichy 2018, which manifested itself into a much more serious virus after I had raced) I wasn’t prepared to jeopardise racing in the Worlds later this year.

Nobody is ever 100% sure about a DNF. 3 weeks later im still not sure I did the right thing. But im assured it was the sensible decision and what has happened since has been the single biggest learning opportunity of my last 5 years in triathlon.

Get Boxing!:

I walked away from the race (which in itself is a first as I'm normally hobbling!) feeling exceedingly deflated. Once back in the apartment, I showered, got into bed, started the process to realise what went wrong. I then realised that the storm that had brewed outside was similar to the storm that had built up in my head prior to the race. All minor, but all stacked up like a huge wall.

So I realise that I had physically prepared for this race, arrived probably in the best physical race shape of my life, but TOTALLY neglected to prepare myself mentally.

A series of unfortunate events had built up throughout race week. But I hadn’t managed to line deal with them quickly, and pop them in a box until the day after the race, when I could don my medal, make a coffee and open the box again.

The lack of ability to do this cost me the race, and a potential podium. How could I have let this happen? How do I stop it happening again? Here are my thoughts so far, I hope they help you to think about your race prep so you can execute the very best race possible & Unleash Your Mojo 😊 !!

1) You will never find a run up to an event that is totally stress free. There will be chaos all around you, just like other weeks of the year. Family, friends, pets, kit, housing, travel, work can all throw up little niggles as you prepare for such a long race. You need to learn how to protect yourself from these


- This is YOUR RACE

- YOU have worked your butt off to get here in your best possible shape

- You owe it to yourself to get your head ready for race day

2) Turn off your phone

(If you work for yourself, this is especially important)

Ask a friend or partner to take some of the communication on.

Remember, communication these days is 24/7. It can affect your sleep, concentration and motivation. Be wary and press the Off Button at least one day before the race. Don’t expect all your social media ‘friends’ to appreciate you need calm before a race, take the matter into your own hands and TURN IT OFF!

3) Allocate Worry Time

Discuss what’s on your mind with a friend/partner who is there. Share your thoughts. BUT set a stop watch for 30 mins, and when the buzzer goes off, its the end of worry time!!

4) Attention Switching

Each time you think of negative thoughts or worries, try attention switching. Mentally make a list of your favourite chocolate bars, think of the 3 things you want to do when you finish the race, your favourite 3 people and why. Anything to switch your attention to more positive thoughts.

5) Pieces of Pie

Have goals, but you MUST see the race as parts of a whole. First is getting to the start line with a clear head, second is the first buoy of the swim, and so on. Bite size chunks.

So from now on, when approaching a race, without doubt my most important goal is to arrive with a clear and positive head. No matter how fast your wheels, how trained your swim technique, how new your trainers, or how many likes your facebook post got, if you head isn’t right, you ‘aint gonna cross that finish line….

….and take it from me, the effort you put into getting to that race is lost, and it chafes more than a 10 year old chamois on a TT bike!

(I also know how that feels!)

You certainly learn more from a bad race than a good one. But its water under the bridge. Thanks to some great training buddies over the last few weeks the Mojo is well and truly found again, and I vow to get myself to the next race in the very best body, and brain, shape I can 😊

Happy racing and training. If anyone would like to talk about this or other similar subjects please comment here or contact me direct on lou@unleashyourmojo.co.uk

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