Mindset of an Endurance Athlete


Mindset of an Endurance Athlete
by: Joseph Beckerley


“You’ll ache. And you’re going to love it. It will crush you. And you’re still going to love all of it. Doesn’t it sound lovely beyond belief?”

― Ernest Hemingway


Race Day: It is time to test myself, to see if I can travel 140.6 miles in under eleven hours, powered by my muscle strength,endurance and my will to finish. This race is as mentally tough as it is physically. I don’t do this for money, prestige, or medals, I do it for me. I must visualize my race, understand what I’m up against, be prepared for the cost of finishing. It’s time to get tested, to test my will, my endurance, my heart, to test my limits. This is the mindset of an endurance athlete.

The sun is rising over the city of Coeur D’alene today, June 28, 2015. Thousands of athletes prepare their transition areas, in order to transition as quickly as possible from swim to bike to run. There is anxiety on each face, some athletes expressing it with a cold and focused look, while others are nervously joking and smiling. Anxiety is normal when preparing the mind and body for a race, it is an innate survival mechanism we all have inherited from our great human ancestors. Fight or Flight. The Ironman is long and there is not a single person here today that will not be challenged.

As you look around the transition area today or any triathlon in the world you will be able to get glimpses at the very best gear in sport, engineered to help athletes move faster in all three disciplines. Engineered to be aerodynamic, made of the lightest carbon fibers, built for speed, reminiscent of walking through a future space expo. You will see every bell and whistle used hoping for an advantage of being able to finish the race quicker.

All basic equipment needs aside it is the human engine that will bring success to this race. The prior 26 weeks of training, the 46 hours swimming, 166 hours cycling, 61 hours running and 54 hours of strength training.  It is the individual’s ability and skillset in each the swim, bike and run. It is the person’s mental strength that allows him/her to travel 140.6 miles.  It is their raw will that will ultimately force their body to continue, even when they are exhausted and their body is begging to quit. I have dedicated the last 26 weeks of my life to this event, with my loving wife and kids support as well as the support of my triathlon team and coaches.

I accept my race may not go perfectly, I may get get kicked during the swim and lose my goggles, get a flat tire, or even crash.  These are the things that can make my race goals unattainable in an instant.  I pray to the triathlon gods these factors don’t present themselves, as they are out of my control.  But the items that are under my control, my dedication and hard work, will be my greatest advantage today.

In only a couple hours, I will carry out what I have visualized a thousand times.  I will turn my nervousness into adrenaline as I go through my pre-race routine and when the cannon sounds at 6:35am I will enter the water for the 2.4 mile swim with confidence.  My nervousness will dissipate, being replaced by focus and steady forward movement. I will start close to the front of the pack on the swim, with the others who believe they can complete the swim in about an hours time. A rolling start with over 2500 competitors means it will be crowded and I will have over a thousand individuals behind me. The large number of competitors will instantly make the lake water turbulent.   I will work my way through the agitated water, feet kicking all around me, hands hitting me and choppy conditions making it hard to breath. As I advance forward the mass of thousands will thin out, our heart rates will calm as each of us settles into our swim pace. The swim is tough and when I come out of the water I will be happy to have this segment behind me. My arms, shoulders and lungs will burn, and now my legs will have to continue the race.

Focused and calm, I picture myself clicking into my bike pedals and embarking on the long 112 mile bike course.  The picturesque course will take me alongside lush green forests and the beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene, it will take me through small residential communities where spectators will urge me to keep going.  I know the bike is my weakest leg of the race, but that is why I have trained extra hard to be strong on the bike. I may not be the fastest but I have the endurance.  I will nourish my body throughout the miles and hours. I will eat high carb food, resistant starch, drink water, electrolytes and branch chain amino acids, replenishing the calories I have already lost during the event and fueling myself for the challenges still to come.  But I also know it is impossible to adequately fuel for an event as grueling as an Ironman.  By the end of this race, I will have burned a staggering 7000 to 10,000 calories, more than I could ever take in during the race.

The first 60 miles the bike ride will feel good, it will go by relatively fast as I take in one of the most beautiful Ironman courses in the world.  I will feel energized and focused, in slight awe of what I am accomplishing.  Then fatigue will start to set in.   My back will start to ache from the unnatural contracted position I have maintained for hours, minimizing my wind resistance as I race down the hills of Coeur D’alene.  The bike saddle, only measuring about 5 inches across, will start to feel relentlessly uncomfortable.  By mile 90 I will will be ready to be done, but will know that I need to continue to push forward for the last 22 miles. The battle of mind and body with begin. My body will feel weak, it will not want to keep up the brisk pace I have been forcing it to maintain.  Part of my mind will tell me to slow down – that it is enough just to finish this race – that my finish time does not really matter. The louder part of my mind will remind me that every early morning I spent on the bike before the sun was up, every time I holed up in my garage to do a speed workout on my bike trainer, every Saturday that I had to leave my family for eight hours at a time to train – it all leads up to this moment.  It is too early in the race to be weak. Mile 112, I will transition off of my bike and happily hand it over to a race volunteer to place back on the bike rack.

Finally, I picture the run.  The glorious run.  I can feel the earth move under me as my feet hit the road and my legs take me forward. I have always felt at peace out on the trails during a morning run. It is my favorite leg of the Triathlon. I was a runner before I ever braved the swim or road bike. I have had great accomplishments and great athletic disappointments running. I still sometimes think back to grade school cross country, how I would always finish in the top three, but could never finish first. Only then it was a battle of speed, not patience and mental focus like the marathon. I’d love to tell you my race victories have come because I am naturally the fastest in the pack, but that is not true.  My first marathon, at Big Sur, I came in first in my division and second overall, not because I was the fastest, but because I accepted the pain and did not let the pain stop me from moving forward.   I know very well that a stand alone marathon will push your body to exhaustion, let alone one that follows a 112 mile bike race and 2.4 mile swim race.  You will start off feeling great. As the miles tick on, your legs start to fatigue.  Your body senses danger.   You go to war with your body and your mind, knowing you need to find that extra push.  It is in us, in all of us; that extra push to get through a challenge.  That is what makes the human species great.  As the fatigue starts to turn into agony, your mind and body are screaming for you to stop. At this point your heart gives you the extra push, telling you you can, and you will, complete this challenge. By mile 24 your body is broken, but your heart keeps you moving forward.  This is when you reach down to your gut and tell yourself just one more step, just one more mile, hey ya, hey ya, hey ya, hey! You tell yourself all you have left is the distance of your morning run around Santee lakes as the sun rises.  All you have left is a jog around the block with your child. You have done this a thousand times.  Mile 25 my perception will be a haze – I will notice little things, maybe a kid holding out his hand to slap me five, a family member yelling my name, but all else will be distant as the crowds pull me into the finish line.  In that moment, I will look up into the sky remembering the fallen spirits above and hear again Joseph Beckerley, Santee CA, You are an Ironman.

Why would anyone want to do this? I tell my child to embrace being uncomfortable, as this is where growth happens.  When you fall off a bike the first time, you must get back on if you want to learn how to ride. It is a metaphor for the rest of your life.  Life has many ways of testing and challenging us as humans, but it is the process of being faced with challenges that helps us discover who we are. It helps bring us closer to one another. It strengthens our minds and refines our judgement.  You must believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle. Translated from French, Cœur d’Alène literally means “heart of the awl” or “showing sharp powers of judgement”.  What better place to test my mind and body?  Today I choose to believe that there is something inside of me that is greater than the course in front of me.  I chose to do this because I can.
Thank you to my loving wife and to my family and friends for your support and love.

2 Responses to “Mindset of an Endurance Athlete”

  • You are a born writer Joseph. Your descriptions and visualization are amazing. My love and prayers (not to the gods) but to the One True God will be with you that day. Our Lord endured nails pierced not just through his hands and feet but deep enough to attach to a piece of wood, oh love most astonishing, love that stood the test. You will preserver and triumph my Joseph. This race and all races throughout your life try your body and soul like gold in a furnace.

  • I love you my Ironman. What an amazing race day!!!

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