The Ironman bike leg: how to stay focussed for 180km

Racing your first Ironman soon and wondering how the heck you stay focused for the 180km? Here's Ironman pro Tim Don with the answers...

One of the best long-distance triathletes in the world, Tim Don, explains how to stay focussed for 180km. Credit: Wagner Araujo

To stay 100% focused for 180.2km is very hard –  whether that’s over four or seven hours. And everyone will have a different way of keeping their head in the game, which in turn keeps the body pushing for the whole bike leg. Annoyingly, there are no secret ways to keep a zen-like mindset. I mean, it’s an Ironman right? We must have a little bit of crazy in us to do it in the beginning!


How much bike training do you need to do for an Ironman?

How to train for your first Ironman

How to race your first Ironman

 12 things I learnt from my first Ironman-distance triathlon

Be practical

When I’m racing, I’ll be honest with you, there have been a few times when my mind has wandered and my head comes out of the game – just a bit. It then gets so much tougher to get the legs pushing again.

When it comes to mind over matter, which is very much the case here, I like to deal with it by being very practical. I break the bike into lots of small segments and really just try to focus on the here and now; ‘focus on the process’, as I say, not the goal, which tends to mean going crazy fast just so you can get to the end of the bike as soon as possible!

 Stay in the moment

At the start of the bike, I try to stay in the moment and go over the practicality of the first 10-20km – get my shoes in, settle down into my position, take on some fluids, check my nutrition is all sorted, check my kit and sleeves are all nice and straight (aero is everything!), get into my bike power zones…. While I’m focusing on these things that I can control (that’s me, no one else) 20km will have passed. Lovely, thank you, I’ll take that. Then I’ll hit an aid station and, well, that’s the next focus – always practical and always about me and what I can do to hit my goal and target power.

Know the course

Knowing the course and how it flows is imperative so that you know what to expect and how best to deal with it. Before the race, check out the terrain, the hills, any technical sections, find out if the wind is going to be pumping at a certain stage, where you need to put the power down and where to let it off and stretch your back out. All these things help me stay strong though the bike section.

Draw on your training

Sure there are times when I’m like, ‘Wow, I still have 75km to go!’ But again I go back to the training I’ve done and draw on the confidence from hitting the sessions, even when I’ve been in a whole world of hurt but coming out on top. That is, I guess, a form of mental training – doing it once in training to set you up to do it again in a race. It’s this that I draw on over and over throughout the bike section to keep my legs turning over. Also while training, think of all the possible problems you might encounter and go through how you will overcome each of them.

Focus on the reason

As I said, I’m more a practical racer, so I won’t really be thinking about my wife and children – ‘doing it for them’, so to speak. Of course that might work for you. Similarly if you’re raising money for a charity close to your heart – again, thinking of the reason behind why you’re doing the event might just be what you need to help you finish.

Talk to others

If you have a coach or friends who have raced Ironman, talk to them – as much as we learn from our own mistakes, we can also learn from others’. Find out what techniques they used to help them keep their mind in the game and focused on the task at hand.


Don’t get carried away

The last 40km or so can be really tough as you’re in that mindset of ‘Only 40km to go… oh wait, I still have to run a marathon.’ I know I get a little excited towards the end of the bike, but do as I do and draw on this energy, stick to your pace and use it to keep focused.