Going Mental: Is Brain Endurance More Important Than Physical?

In Pain In This Man’s Brain (Insane in the Brain!)

Unless you have ridiculous natural talent, or take large doses of EPO with your Cheerios, training for an Ironman is more of an endurance event than the actual event itself.   I’ve written in the past about the morning battle just to get out of bed and go to workouts every morning.  This morning was no different:

  • Thunderstorms booming at 2:30 AM woke me up.  Immediately my mind calculates:  Thunder = Lightning = Pools will be closed = No swim workout = Sleep in until 7:59 AM.
  • The alarm goes off and my subconscious grabs the bookmark it left at 2:30 AM and reminds me: You don’t have to get up. I do not trust this voice inside my head but hit snooze for good measure.
  • The alarm goes off again
  • I actually get up, having decided to go to core, which would make this my first ever 3-core-workouts-in-a-week effort.   Your heel still hurts from the track workout on Wednesday. Go back to sleep.
  • I crawl back into bed.
  • One minute later I jump out of bed and rush into the kitchen before my mind can conjure any substantial deception, but still my mind bombards me with desperate warnings trying to reverse my direction back to the three pillows I sleep with.  The roads are wet?  I know how to drive. It’s good Friday? It’s not, and I’m not Catholic. You really need a recovery day. I had one last Friday. Your stomach and lower intestine do not feel good. Okay, good point, but when did you start getting so anatomical?

I made it to core, survived the workout, and felt great getting home to start the work day.


Perhaps the hardest battle for many people is the monotony of training.  Hey kids, guess what Uncle Bryan is doing today?


Okay, kids, maybe that’s not so interesting.   But this monotony is fractal.  On the big scale, what will I be doing over the next four months?  The same thing.   Then, within a week, what will I be doing?  Largely the same thing.  Look into a day?  The same thing.  What did you do during your five hour bike ride last week?  The five hours are broken into 10 half hours.  Each half hour involves drinking 10-20 ounces of fluid and ‘downing’ a gel, and taking a salt tablet to achieve a intake of 350 calories and enough electrolytes to keep your muscles working.  Within that half hour are 60 cycles of constant checking of my cadence and heart rate every 30 seconds in order to make adjustments, telling myself to drop my heels and relax my shoulders, checking to see if my stroke is tangential to the crank and not just pushing down.   Rinse, lather, repeat.

Swimming and Running.  More of the same.  In the pool or on the track, the view never changes.  Look at a workout mapped out on Garmin.com after your GPS watch has recorded it.  You just ran in circles for an hour.   Or worse. you swam the same 25 yards back and forth for an hour.   3200 yards means you made the same trip 128 times.  Back, forth.  Back, forth.

It is a special talent, or maybe a defect, that many of us can shut out minds off, to only see your heart rate, to ignore the 2 hours, 5 hours, or 12 hours of race remaining, and focus on the now.  The talent for delayed gratification is supposedly a direct link to success in life.   Or maybe learning to take some small morsel of success when everyone else sees no gratification whatsoever.   In a world where happiness has been shown to be relative, you can create your own happiness.   And right when I reach that conclusion, then I think, I have 127 lengths of this damn pool left.

The Seven Habits of Highly Obsessive Compulsive People

While there are physical requirements to complete an Ironman, so far the need for incredible organizational skills actually seems to dominate.  Keeping track of all the equipment, logistics, timing, food requirements, laundry, anti-friction lubricants (I kid you not, forget these and you will not look at a bike seat the same way again.).   Some triathletes actually keep a spare of everything except their bike in their car, which makes their back seat / trunk look like a yard sale from an athletic dilettante.  Some create excel spreadsheets that could balance the national budget of Uruguay but instead are used to plan out workouts for “Macro Phase 3” of their training plan.

Under Four Months Left

I updated the fundraising totals on my website today (over $3,000 in just the first few weeks, which really humbles me) and noticed that the Ironman countdown clock is at 120 days.  It’s July 23, and the race is on November 21st.  We’re officially under 4 months remaining.   On the one hand, it seems so close, and I have a lot of work to do in such a short period of time to be ready.  On the other hand, that means over 350 hours of workouts remain, hundreds of miles of biking, 10s of 1000s of yards of swimming, and well over 200 miles of running, are still ahead.  Time for some brain pushups.

2 thoughts on “Going Mental: Is Brain Endurance More Important Than Physical?

    • You build it by adding as much monotony to your life as possible. The long rides and the long runs help a lot. I think removing all the things that help (teammates, music, good scenery, etc) every once in a while help a lot – i.e. force yourself to experience every pedal stroke and don’t let your mind go anywhere. One of my favorite movies is Fight Club, and the scene where Tyler burns Jack with Lye and forces him to experience the pain and just live with it is a great example. Another idea: take a song you hate and listen to it on repeat for two hours. “That which does not kill you may still put you in the asylum.” So bottom line, I basically have no idea.

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