The fear factor

Our Outlaw to be confronts one of the lesser-discussed elements of training for an Ironman – fear

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Someone at work asked me recently which part of the iron-distance Outlaw I was looking forward to the least. It’s an interesting question, but answering it isn’t as easy as simply choosing between the swim, the bike and the run.

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That’s because there are elements of each that I’d rather not think about. Rather than doing that, though, I decided I’d use this blog to get everything out in the open and confront one of the lesser-discussed elements of training for an Ironman – fear.

In the water
To put it mildly, I struggle with the cold. More specifically, my hands and feet struggle with the cold. My GP told me a couple of years back that I’ve probably got Reynaud’s Phenomenon, which means the blood vessels in my fingers and toes overreact to low temperatures.

In general, that just means I’ve got icy-cold hands from September to April. But when it gets really bad, it means I lose all feeling and my fingers turn a disconcerting, Milky Bar colour.

So, as you might imagine, I’m more than a little nervous about spending well over an hour in chilly water. Previous open-water swims have been okay, but there have been a couple where I’ve hardly been able to do up my cycle shoes afterwards.

And the idea of all that training going to waste because I get too cold? Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?

In the saddle
Then there’s the bike. I’ve done a few 100-mile sportives in the past, so I’m confident that if I pace myself well and eat properly, I’ve got the distance in my legs.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t have the dreaded ‘m’ word – mechanical – hanging over me for every one of those 112 miles. Punctures I can deal with. Chain-related things I should be able to sort out, thanks to a few lessons from my father-in-law.

But what if – as happened to the very same father-in-law right at the start of a 100-miler last summer – a spoke breaks and a wheel buckles? All that work, all that sweat, all those weekends in the saddle, and it’s all undone by one 50cm length of metal not doing its job properly…

On foot
And finally there’s the run. I’ve done marathons before. I know what it feels like to keep going when your body and your mind are screaming at you to stop and lie down in the road. So by rights this should be the part of the race I’m most comfortable with.

But then I think about those films we’ve all seen of pros wobbling towards the line, their legs gone, their minds in pieces. This isn’t ‘just’ running a marathon, after all. This is running a marathon straight after cycling the distance from London to Birmingham.

Add to that the fact that in the past, when I’ve run too soon after eating, I’ve occasionally suffered from, er, a problem commonly associated with Paula Radcliffe, and there’s still plenty to give me pause for thought, even in the discipline I’m most comfortable with.

Facing the fears
But, as Don Fink writes in his excellent ‘Be Iron Fit’ book: ‘Courage is resistance of fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear’. It’s a Mark Twain quote, and to me, it simply means that I can do no more than prepare for fear, face fear – and respond.

So, once it opens, I’ll be swimming in my local open water lake at least once a week to help my body acclimatise. On the day itself, I’ll be in gloves and socks until the moment I get in the water, to make sure I’m hot when the gun goes off. I’ll make sure my bike’s in the best possible condition. I’ll take it easy, easy, easy on the run. I’ll practice nutrition obsessively to work out what works – and no doubt to discover what doesn’t work, too.

And though I’ll still wake up on the 1st of July with fear pulsing through my veins, I’ll know I’ve done everything I can to prepare. I’ll know some things are in my control, and others are out of it.  

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That way, when problems do raise their head on the big day – and even if my darkest fears turn into reality – I’ll be ready. Ready to resist fear, to master fear, and to drag myself to that finish line, whatever it takes.