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Catching up with Sam Long - Texas 70.3

Professional Triathlete, and the YO YO YO man, Sam Long, discusses how important the mental game is in racing and takes us through his recent 3rd place finish at Ironman Texas 70.3.
Sam Long running at Texas 70.3 Photo by Kenny Withrow

Hey guys, or should I say Yo, Yo, Yo! I am happy to be back on the SurPhyto blog and hopefully can offer some valuable insight. I just finished 3rd at Texas 70.3 in a close men’s field (we were all within 1 minute and I got outsprinted in the final 400 meters). Rather than talk about how the race unfolded I wanted to discuss the mental aspect of how I approach a race—particularly when it’s not an A race and how to balance expectations but also have believe in one’s abilities. Let’s dive in!

Here is a little background to the race and where I am at in my training. I have been and am currently preparing for Ironman Tulsa as my A race. Most of my training therefore has been focused towards Ironman type training and lots of volume (read #SamLongFullSend). My coach only granted me a one-week taper—and that was only because the race fell on a rest week. The weekend before this race I rode 140 miles on Saturday and did an 18 mile long run the next day. I was certainly fit but fatigued and I had to look within to get my mind squared away.

There were heavy hitters on the start list such as Lionel Sanders, fellow Sur Athlete Matt Hanson, Ben Kanute, and many others. Coming from such an intense block of training, I struggled with the thought of not meeting personal expectations of what I knew I was capable of in my performance. I was worried that my body would be tired, and I wouldn’t be able to go as hard as I wanted. I found myself trying to come up with excuses before the race because it was a C race. What I learned in this process was no matter what type of race I am competing in, I need to have the same mindset as my top race. Instead of having a constant internal battle in my mind of being tired, not fit, or not where I want to be, I allowed myself to come to peace with where I am at and accept it. I had to eliminate the excuses from my head. I told myself that even in this condition I could beat the likes of Lionel Standers, a long-time idol to me. I came to peace in my mind, believed in myself and committed to the race. As athletes we chase better fitness but when it comes to performance, mental belief always precedes physical abilities.

I told myself I could win this race. The night before the race I always write down a mantra. This time my mantra was Pain is a Privilege. This captured my mindset in training, and I transferred it to the race. This Mantra resonated with me for two reasons. First, I started to hold myself back more in training and had not truly pushed my limits in several months. It would be a privilege to be able to go as hard as I could. I was excited to push. Second, it captured the gratitude of being able to toe a start line again—which cannot be taken for granted since Covid.

How did the mental preparation set me up on race day? After a disappointing swim, I exited the water and was faced with a mental showdown. I heard “You are 2 minutes back to Lionel Sanders.” Immediately, I thought how is this possible and that winning the race was not a possibility. I nearly gave up then… But then I quieted the mind. “Pain is a Privilege. You got this. Head down. Just go.” I went. I forgot about trying to get a place and just settled into the pain. I settled into the disappointment with my swim and used it in a positive way. Then halfway through the bike I discovered I had a fighting chance. I could still win! On the way back there was a ferocious headwind. I loved it and I buried myself to get into the race. I finally caught the front of the race with 10 miles to go. We came into transition two and I went for it. I suffered on the run but gave it everything I had. Sure, I didn’t win the race, but I did more than I initially thought possible after my poor swim. My mental preparation set me up to bounce back from setback.

I’m fired up after the race! I am capable of more! I learned I could crawl myself back after a terrible swim and get time back on the best cyclists and runners in the sport. Every race I go to, I believe in myself and know that with a strong mind anything is possible. I would rather shoot for the stars and fall a little short then tell myself I cannot ever get there at all. Onwards and upwards to Ironman Tulsa.

Thanks for your time,

Sam

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