Relax. Believe. Persist.

At some point during any event, or even every training session, you’ll question yourself. Why is this so hard today? I’m not sure I can get through this. The nagging voices of self doubt can cripple you if you let them.

These negative thoughts can happen within seconds of beginning a workout. They can happen when your opponent lands his first punch and it rocks you back on your feet. Instantly you start to wonder if he’s to strong, or if you can overcome his power.

One of the benefits of spending time on longer distance stuff is that you learn patience. Maybe that’s old age too, although if you drove with me you’d doubt my patience. In really long things that last more than a few hours you’re going to have ups and downs. There will be times so dark that you’ll be on the verge of tears and others, seemingly seconds later where you feel on top of the world. Distance veterans have a saying – it never always gets worse.

Imagine you start up a steep trail with friends, people you can usually hang with when you train. But for some reason today when you got out of the car to start you hadn’t brought your legs with you. It happens. Blame it on the tides, your biorhythms or whatever you want, we all have bad days from time to time. Today as you start the first climb your breathing is laboured, you strain to keep up with your friends, fighting the trail and trying to push your feet harder into the ground on each step.

But the trail isn’t going anywhere. It’s as long as it is long and it will take you until you get to the top to finish it. Profound, huh? It’s common at the start of something that has even a slightly competitive element to it that people panic a little. They may not recognise it but their pulse will go up, their breathing quickens and their chest tightens. I’m actually convinced that this feeling of anxiety before an event is compounded in triathlon swim starts by the tightness of wetsuits and leads to some of the swim deaths each year, as well as people pulling out of the swim suffering panic attacks.

Just relax and breathe. Woooosaaah.

If we’re talking triathlon and you’re feeling panicked at the start of the swim, just relax. You’ve done the distance many times in training. Instead of thinking you can’t do it, let’s flip that on its head and remind ourselves that we’ve done this many times before and that we want to be here. After all, we paid our entry fees, spent hours training for this event and got up really early to get ready to race.

I remember standing on the beach at Ironman this year looking out in the water. I’ve swum a lot in all kinds of conditions but I can honestly say that I have never swum in worse conditions than we were about to race in. The waves were like roller coasters and the rip was unreal – it pushed me 200m off course on the way back into the beach. But I was relaxed. I’d done the work. I knew I could swim the distance. I might be slower than I’d planned but I knew I could get it done.

That brings me to the next point – belief. Believe in the work you’ve done. Believe in yourself having the strength to push through when things get tough. I see this in the snatch test all the time. It starts to get hard for most people at about the sixty or seventy rep mark. They want to put the bell down and have a rest. But thy don’t need a rest, they need belief. They need to believe in their strength and fitness, in how much work they’ve done to get to this point right now, two thirds of the way through the snatch test that they have enough fitness to do the last forty reps. They need to believe that it won’t hurt any worse at eighty as it does right now and they need to believe that they can withstand the pain, welcome it even. Remember, it doesn’t always get worse, and with fifteen or so reps to go they’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel and they’ll be able to finish strong.

Two nights ago, jet lagged and wheezing for breath because of a change in altitude, I found myself on an Airdyne bike in the middle of a wicked interval session. For people who don’t know an Airdyne is an exercise bike that has fans for a wheel and you push and pull on the handles too so that it becomes a whole body exercise. It’s an awful, evil contraption. What makes it so hard is that due to the nature of air resistance increasing speed by two fold leads to a four times increase in effort. The evil part of this workout was that we were trying to get more work done on each round so effort was increasing each time. And at about the thirty second mark of a one minute interval I found myself nearly up to my last breathing strategy. When things are starting to get really rough I let go of everything and focus on only breathing. But this night I saw that i was only halfway through the interval and my breathing was nearly completely out of control – and I still had half the interval to go. But i just kept at it, as hard as I could, knowing that I would survive. Like anyone in those situations I thought about stopping. I thought about slowing down to a more comfortable level. But I didn’t because of belief.

And that’s the final bit. You have to keep going. The race will finish when you cross the line so just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. Persist. Endure. Accept the suffering and understand that it makes you better. That small thing you just ignored and didn’t quite because of will transform into bigger things. Because fitness is like that. What we do in the gym bleeds into the rest of our life. The discipline and persistence we learn so that we can improve our fitness helps us in other activities too.

A few years ago I was working for my family. The week before end of financial year our payroll system crashed completely. No retrieval possible and no way to fix anything the problem other than to go back through every pay we’d done for the year and re-enter it into the new software we bought. I had two days to get a year’s worth of pays done, on top of normal work and end of year stuff. But I got it done, one at a time, just ticking them off, relaxed and confident that I’d get them done.

Ultimately, you need to know why you’re there and have a sufficient reason. Choosing a race because you think it will make you cool or tough is a bad idea and when the moment comes that you start to doubt yourself, and you will, you’ll be done. But if you’ve got the right reason, have done the work you’ll be relaxed and have belief in yourself that allows you to keep going.

Relax. Believe. Persist. It’ll help you conquer everything from first fights, to Ironman racing to that hard MetCon at the Crossfit Regionals.