When I began training for my first Ironman more than a year ago, I thought the keys to completing the 140.6-mile course would be strength and stamina. So I sought a triathlon coach to make me stronger, better, faster, harder. I worked with a personal trainer to build muscle. I bought the latest gear to give me an extra edge.

Then I ate, slept, and lived Ironman practically 24/7/365.

As the training intensity and duration increased, however, I realized that my body (and my wallet) could only take me so far. There’s only so many minutes or weight I could shed, no matter how hard I worked. And the podium was still nowhere in sight.

I also realized that the biggest strength gains don’t necessarily come from the weight room, in the pool, or slaving through those dreaded hill repeats.

If you want to become mentally tougher with tips from pro triathletes and sports psychologists, this column is for you.

They come from a deeper place. Sometimes a darker place. A place that can be easy to visit, harder to remain, and even more painful to confront. No, I’m not referring to the Bates Motel or the trunk of my car-turned-foul-smelling-locker room.

I’m talking about something arguably even worse: our own mind. The place where Doubt, Can’t, Won’t, Shouldn’t, Couldn’t, and ultimately Didn’t often tend to occupy an inordinate amount of space—space that can be taken back with hard work, honesty, and even a little vulnerability. In a sport built around self-deception and deprivation, that is no small feat.

As readers who follow my blog or have read my previous articles for LAVA (here or here) know, I trained hundreds of hours en route to completing Ironman Arizona in November. Many of those hours were spent alone—no music, no company, no conversation.

Through the long gaps of silence, I thought. I analyzed. I felt. Maybe I even flirted with insanity. Ultimately, I discovered that mental makeup is as important as physical training. It’s one thing to be physically prepared for high winds and hail on race day. It’s another thing altogether to know how to handle it when your nutrition plan fails, cramps sear your body, and the sun sets not only on the day itself but on your quest for a personal best.

What then? Will you persevere or will you crumble?

To me, this is the crux of Ironman, the place where want to and will come together.

In this new column, “Mind Games,” I’ll hang out at this very intersection. Maybe you’ll camp out here with me from time to time. Think of it as an aid station for the soul.

I don’t claim to be a sports psychologist, I don’t read self-help books, and I don’t watch Dr. Phil. I’m not here to fix you like in the Coldplay song. I’m a regular guy with a regular day job and a pretty regular life. I just happen to have an irregular passion for triathlon, and believe it’s as much a thinking man’s sport as it is a warrior’s tale. I believe that “feel” in triathlon is every bit as important as Felt. And I believe it can be damned difficult to train for an Ironman alone in the dark—literally or figuratively.

So, if you’re training for your first Ironman and not sure what to expect, this column is for you. If you’re dealing with the heartbreak of missing your big A-race goal of the year, this column is for you. If you want to become mentally tougher with tips from top pro triathletes and sports psychologists, this column is for you.

And, if you’re just plain crazy about triathlon, “Mind Games” is most definitely for you.


Ryan Schneider is an Ironman triathlete and blogger who works in brand development when he’s not swimming, biking or running.  You can read his blog at ironmadman.com, follow him on Twitter (@theironmadman), and read his monthly column right here.