Facing your Fears

My biggest fear going into Ironman 70.3 Austin was getting a flat on the bike. (Actually, it’s my biggest fear in triathlon.) I know how to change a tire but I’m not exactly quick about it. Prior to Austin I practiced four times, not just to be prepared but also thinking that if I prepared I’d be less likely to get a flat.

Funny thing is, getting a flat should have been the least of my fears. I wasn’t afraid of getting beaten up in the swim (which I did) or faltering on the run (yeah, did that, too). But I faced the fear and prepared for it. There were a lot of flats on the bike course because of the cracked roads, but as I rode past people changing tires, I wasn’t afraid that it might happen to me.

Years ago I wasn’t as good at facing my fears. In fact, as a teenager I pulled out of several races because I was afraid of performing poorly. Usually this occurred when I discovered a race was longer than I’d originally thought. (Cross-country race distances often weren’t posted until just before or actually on race day.) I was afraid of long distances because I wasn’t prepared for them. My training runs were short and relatively fast. I got bored easily and, to be honest, was a slacker. The day before the British Universities Cross-Country Championships, I feigned a family emergency because I discovered the race was 8k, not 5k. My fear of not being able to finish a race consumed me. Not long after that incident, I quit running for two years.

Fear is natural. And normal. Most of us experience it. What’s important is acknowledging the fear and handling it appropriately. If I’m going into a long race such as a marathon, I handle my fears by reminding myself that I’m well-trained and well-prepared, physically and mentally. Often, we are fearful because we’re venturing into unknown territory. When I ran my first 50K I was calmer than before most of my marathons because I focused on the known factors rather than wondering if I could manage the distance. I knew I loved trails and ran them well. I knew I was going to run slowly and walk the hills. I put zero pressure on myself to achieve a target time. Obviously, I had a desired time goal, but I put that in the back of my mind.

Turning a fear into a positive is also a good idea. In sprint triathlons, one of my fears is getting passed in the pool. I hate getting passed. But when I assess this fear, I start thinking, “OK, I might get passed. Big deal. In fact, if someone passes me, I’m gonna draft off them.” This means less work for me. And since I’m a slacker, this is a good thing.

What do you fear in racing? How do you handle your fears? 





  1. Getting a flat is my #1 fear, and then in second is losing control of my bike and crashing. I feel like this should be the other way around…

    I’m pretty good at letting go and either taking control of what I have control of (knowing how to fix a flat tire, practicing on the bike) and then accepting that things may not go the way I want. If you don’t let go, your fears will control you and you’ll likely have a terrible race as a result.

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