Seven ways to ward off pain and boredom when going long

We share some effective coping strategies for Ironman distance triathlons


(Image: Ironman Europe)


Are you planning to step up to iron-distance this year but worried about how to cope with the mental and physical consequences of going long? Clinical psychologist Matthew Tatum has seven tips to ensure you’ll last the distance.

There are two categories of coping skills that’ll help with both boredom and pain: association, also referred to as tuning in or paying attention, and disassociation, also known as tuning out or distraction. Experienced competitors will benefit from using more association skills, while the less experienced will benefit more from disassociation.

Association skills involve paying attention to what’s going on in your body. Noticing your breathing, nutritional needs, energy levels, physical fatigue, aches and pains, thoughts and feelings and so on. Athletes using these skills are constantly monitoring their internal processes and using that information to guide their race performance. 

While all athletes need to use these skills, research suggests that more experienced athletes will benefit from using them more often, while overuse by less experienced athletes will lead to increased discomfort and decreased performance.

Disassociation skills involve distracting yourself from your internal experiences like boredom, pain, fear and negative thoughts. Most athletes should spend the majority of their race using these types of skills. Of course, everyone should be occasionally checking in with association skills, but disassociation should comprise the bulk of the race. Here are a few examples of disassociation skills…

Make friends: wave, whistle or holler at spectators. They’re there to support you, so feed off of their energy. Chum it up with the athletes around you. You’re all in this together so support one another. 

Take in your surroundings: pay attention to everything going on: the sights, smells and sounds. 

Visualise success: use your imagination to see yourself crossing the finish line. Imagine what it’s going to feel like to have finished 140.6 miles. Picture your family and friends cheering you to the finish. 

Happy memories: recall positive experiences in your life – past races, the birth of your first child… whatever takes you to a happy time. Make these memories feel real again and imagine you’re actually there. 

Songs: pick your favourite song and play it on repeat in your head. 

Mantra: find a word or two that are meaningful to you like pride, pain, passion, stamina and determination. Write it on your hand, arm or water bottle. Focus on that word and its meaning to you. 

Motivation: remind yourself why you train and race in the first place, whether it’s to be fit, to overcome obstacles, to inspire someone or to test your limits. Focus on these and use them as motivation to drive you forward. 


What strategies do you use to cope with the pain and boredom of swimming, cycling and running 226km? Let us know in the comments below!