Your MInd Is Your Most Important Raw Material And Tool As An Endurance Athlete And You Get To Choose


dilbert, insane but the happy kind,

Psychiatric diagnoses, in this view, are in the minds of observers and are not valid summaries of characteristics displayed by the observed.”  Extracted from ‘In Being Sane In Insane Places‘ by David L. Rosenhan

Kevin, you must be crazy doing this Ironman stuff at your age – silence – maybe I should work out more?” By lots of people in FitOldDog’s daily life.

Hi folks,

The thing about Ironman training is that it involves a lot of gear, much of which has to work well on the day, and this equipment is created from raw materials using human imagination. It is the imagination part that you should not forget!

When people start to work out they seem to think that it is all about their body, but it is really all about their mind. For instance, my traffic is heavily weighted by people using search terms that include the word ‘MOTIVATION.’ A common human ailment, which blocks their ability to start training and carry it out effectively, is misoneism or fear of change.

Chez Ollie Is it the mind or the body that gives out when a winning Ironman triathlete crawls over the finish line – clearly the mind says, “There’s the finish line, I can stop now,” and it does, and down they go.”

It is critical to realize that you can change both your body and your mind. It helps to think of your mind as a raw material, and then decide what kind of material you would like it to be – think ‘metals’ for instance. Some minds are like mercury, just flowing into any old idea that comes along, others resemble caste iron, hard, unbending and rigid, whilst they fracture under any serious strain. Choose your mental metal (or wood, or stone, or whatever) carefully, and work to change your mind for the better – remember, it is both tool and raw material). If you don’t think that the mind plays a critical role in endurance sports, just watch a world-class athlete collapse just before the finish line, having to crawl the last few yards (I saw two of the lead women do this almost simultaneously, right before my eyes, in the Hawaii Ironman race). Or watch one collapse just after they cross the finish line (Boston Marathon, 2009). They were holding themselves together with their minds, like the mental debate I discussed previously with respect to tough bike climbs. It can help to think of your mind as a raw material that can change itself, becoming tougher and more flexible, and that you are then able to mold into an increasingly effective tool to improve your life.

Turning raw material into useful tools.

Dave (left) and FitOldDog working in Johnny’s, turning their raw materials, wood and Facebook, respectively, (and their minds) into functional tools. Bet that spoon will still be around when my Facebook account is long gone.

This line of thinking reminds me of a book that I read years and years ago, The Midwich Cuckoos!

midwich cuckoos, village of the damned, book, mental control,

Midwich Cuckoos (book, John Wyndham) or Village of the Damned (movie), in which mind control by Gordon Zellaby, who has to kill the alien children, plays a major role in the final climax.

People say to me from time to time that I must be insane to pursue Ironman training, which raises the interesting question of ‘what exactly is sanity?’ I am starting to suspect that happiness with one’s lot in life is more important than the actual nature of one’s lot in life, whether you are considered to be sane or not.

The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham ends with a critical mental scene, the image of which stuck in my memory. A key character in the story, Gordon Zellaby, had to play a difficult mind game in order to destroy a group of alien children, destined to take over the world if he failed. He brought a bomb into his last meeting with them, but they could read his mind, so he had to build a mental wall between his consciousness, which they could see, and his knowledge of the bomb he brought with him to kill them all, including himself. The aliens realized that something was up and worked to penetrate his mental wall, which slowly crumbled under their combined pressure. But what was this wall and where was it in his mind? This is not a new question.

When it comes to consciousness, people talk about ‘the ghost in the machine.’ The term, initially coined by the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, was used as the title of a book by Arthur Koestler, and to quote unashamedly from WikiPedia:

One of the book’s central concepts is that as the human brain has grown, it has built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures, and that this is the “ghost in the machine” of the title. Koestler’s theory is that at times these structures can overpower higher logical  functions, and are responsible for hate, anger and other such destructive impulses.

Aside: One of the best books I ever read on this subject was ‘The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature,’ by Steven Pinker.

When you look closely into your mind I think that you might find warring or conflicted impulses at work, and maybe a whole population of ghosts. Your job in life is to choose which voices to listen to when it comes to selecting the actions that will define your life (as Prof. Dumbledore said to Harry Potter). From here, I think, comes the power of imagery, about which I have written previously with respect to my ‘inner child‘ and the challenge of handling pain during intense training on the bike. I am now exploring the power of imagery to improve my Ironman race performance – I need all the help that I can get.

single sail, sailing ship, FitOldDog's imagination,

This is the kind of sail that I imagine, but it is made of my sense of confidence and purpose.

I suffered a poor race performance at the Eagleman Half Ironman recently, because the heat brought me down to a walk-run, which I hate after all that training. So, I talked to Rebecca, my Continuum teacher, about the impact of a poor race performance on one’s self-confidence. A disappointing race can play havoc with the mind. Rebecca suggested that I explore my thoughts and feelings about this race, and consider its impact on my posture. This line of enquiry into my psyche resulted in a valuable suggestion with respect to maintaining confidence in the face of a physical challenge, such as intense training or racing in the heat. Based upon her knowledge of my previous success with creative visualization, Rebecca proposed that I imagine my self-confidence as a large white sail lifting me up and pulling me along, especially when things are tough.

Carlos Castaneda, Yaqui Way, good books, goodreads,

A book to make you think – is that a bad thing?

I tried it at the pool, and it worked fine, helping to hold my posture together in the water. The only time it faltered was when things got tough, during the last set of 6×100 yds on the 1:40. I noticed that the image tended to fade as I struggled to maintain my pace. Then came a run in the hot sun, and the fading of my ‘sail of confidence’ was even more marked as I worked to finish the last mile at a decent pace. As the sail faltered I could feel my confidence ebbing. Then I would take hold of the situation, the image of the sail would grow stronger, and my pace would pick up. I would imagine the ship in the picture above, and I could almost feel the salt water spray in my face cooling me down – made the whole business a lot more fun, and my pace picked up. I think that this concept is one worth exploring. And all of this makes one wonder about the nature of sanity, which is probably contextual, as Carlos Castaneda has already explained in A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.

So, when you are working out to improve your body, and undertake ‘safe exercise for better health‘ (note the flagrant use of my major long-tail keyword, as I attempt to market without becoming obnoxious), FitOldDog’s advice is that you start with your mind, not your body. Strive to improve mind awareness, and I think that your body awareness and ultimate fitness goals will be more readily attained.

Train On!

-k @FitOldDog



  1. This sail image in your mind could be reinforced if you had actually sailed on a square rigger and gone aloft and reefed in a sail in a squall or unreefed the same sail when calm returned. It seems imaged based, in part, on experience are easier to hold firmle in the mind’s grasp

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.