False Evidence Appearing Real.

Yeah OK I pinched that from a movie (Nightcrawler – creepily awesome and confronting) and  I am sure it has been tossed around elsewhere also.

But when you think about it, it make a lot of sense. In fact when you look at fear in this simplistic fashion, then it doesn’t seem so irrational.

I am sure many athletes take on something like an Ironman or an Ultramarathon, or multi-day ride, to conquer particular fears that they have.

“Can I do it” or “Is this even possible”.

In a very raw sense, fear is a part of what has driven men to conquer mountains, explore new countries, and basically do cool/ scary/ confronting stuff.

And that is why Ironman can be such a daunting task for some. For some Ironman is a an Everest.

It represents a big question mark, that you really have no way of truly answering until you roll up the sleeves, put your big boy/ girl pants on and get out there and give it a shot.
But even seasoned endurance athletes face fears, albeit different to that of a ‘newbie’.

“Can I go faster?”
“Can I go fast enough to make it to Kona”.
“Can I do better”

Most likely it isn’t the event that we fear, it is the failure. But you don’t know if you will fail until you step and have a go right?

Each time we overcome a fear (even partially), not only do we build confidence, but we also begin asking new questions; what else can I do that evoked that same tingling feeling?
That is the cool thing about fear.

The not so cool thing about fear is that it ruins performances, crushes your mental game, and if left un-checked, will destroy your self-confidence in all aspects of life (I have seen people who have carried this for years and years, forgetting what they were actually fearful of in the first place).

I have spoken with plenty of first-time-Ironman-athletes about their fears of what is to come on race day. Some fear the swim, other the length bike, or just the fact that it is many many hours moving in a forward direction.

Some just fear the enormity of it all. Others fear that the training isn’t enough, that they aren’t ready.  Or fearing nutrition/ hydration isn’t enough. Fearing the dreaded puncture, the draft-busters or some other race day goblin.

We all have our own fears – some in common with others, some are tied deeper and are far more unique to each individual.

And whilst that fear appears very real, it isn’t. It is just fearing what you don’t know. We are question answering machines who hate not having the answer. But we are great at getting out there and finding out some answers. We just want to know if it we can do it, but are sometimes scared that we might not be able to.

So what to do about that fear? What’s the strategy?

Firstly, you have to ackowledge your fear.
What are you actually worried about? A lot of times this is failure – the inability to adequately answer the “can I do it” question.
If you can find precision in your answer then you can better equip yourself with a solution.

Before a race or big event I write down everything that is on my mind (not all fears, sometimes it’s mundane stuff like “did I feed the dog”). But this emptying of the mind means I will have a better chance of getting proper sleep before a race.

So you can do the same with your fears: get them down onto paper and take a good look at them. You might find that one you see them that way, that they are silly, or don’t seem so overwhelming.  At the very least they become more tangible when removed from the confines of the space between your ears. Then take the big ones and begin to work out your plan to overcome; simply find answers to those “what if questions”.

Secondly, you have to take it on. Yeah it is obvious. But once you have established your fears then you need to create the mindset that you will do everything you can to overcome that fear.

I like making my fears obvious each day so that they are right there in front of me, leaving me no option but to address them. Everytime I look at them, I am reminded of what I am doing and why. This keeps me on track an focused with what I am doing.

It’s kind of like “Oh hey, remember you said you were scared of that thing? Well buddy, what have you done about it today huh?”.

Get good at looking at your fear.

Here is something else you should do if you feel completely overwhelmed by your fear.

Chunk it. Yep that is a real word. Chunking builds confidence.

What I mean is break something down into small chunks that you can manage. Rather than looking too far ahead to what you already know is there, try more manageable portions. If this is a hill in a particular race, then cut the hill into halves, quarters, the next lighpole, the next big tree… Whatever you need to do to create smaller chunks. Mt Everest was not conquered in one climb. It was broken down into sections – each one requiring focus and planning.

We do this in training every day. We break down sessions into smaller parts to allow for continuity and development before we build out on those.. It doesn’t need to be any different when addressing your fears.

When I raced my first Ironman I did this:

I knew that the jetty was about 1.8km out, so I broke the swim into 2 parts. That made it easier to think about. At the time it was a 2 lap course, so I broke each lap in half and just focused on what needed to be done for each 45km section. Conveniently, the run was 4 laps (10 and a bit kilometres) so that made fro pretty digestible pieces. And when those chunks began to strain on my resolve, I just broke them down further until I had pieces that I could manage. You can remove the fear by taking away the perceived enormity of it.

My point is that if something is scaring you to the point of near-paralysis or bad decision making, then you have to look at how you can overcome that fear. It is a problem/ solution kinda deal (assuming that quitting/ hiding / running away are NOT options).

Your strategy will keep you connected to the here and now, not hours/ weeks/ months into the future. As KM and I have mentioned many times, if you are truly engaged in what you are doing at a particular point in time, you will create strong mental links towards the outcome you are hoping for. It creates incredible focus.

There is something liberating about taking on your fears. It’s the removal of shackles that were holding you, clouding your judgement and preventing you from truly performing.
And one of the best answers to your fear of a race, is to look back at your training form time to time. Acknowledge that the work you put in, the dedication to body maintenance, the balance of nutrition and sleep and stress….all that builds confidence for you to take on that fear.

Don’t be scared of your fear. Use it to create focus.

Coach Pete