Ironman Coaching: The Ironman Marathon and Pain - Why Do I Hurt?

I've just been sent a link to a fantastic article by physiotherapist and athlete Derek Griffin (link at the end of the article). For me as an Ironman coach, his theories on the pain that athletes sometimes experience make for extremely interesting reading when put in the context of an Ironman marathon.

His key point is:

  • There is no clear relationship between “injury” and pain. More injury does not necessarily mean more pain, and vice versa.

His article includes examples of many situations that suggest that the brain can choose to interpret pain signals differently according to the situation we face ourselves with. Sometimes, soldiers injured in battle feel no pain at all until they have got themselves to safety, and sometimes triathletes feel no pain from an injury when they are on the verge of a breakthrough performance.

This part was especially interesting to me, as success in Ironman coaching often seems to come down to how well a triathlete deals with perceived 'pain' during the latter parts of the Ironman marathon. There sometimes seems to be little correlation between how religiously they've followed their Ironman training plan, and how well the hold together over the last part of their Ironman marathon. I've often wondered what thoughts are going through my athletes' heads at this point. Perhaps a more interesting question raised by the article is 'how much of the pain they are feeling is actually real?'

The physical preparation provided by a well written Ironman training plan will definitely go a long way to prepare a triathlete for the physical challenge they are going to face on race day. This article has really given me food for thought, and inspired me to put together a package help my triathletes prepare mentally for the physical sensation of pain that they might well experience during the Ironman marathon.

There's a link to a great video with Haile Gebrselassie describing his time with an Achilles injury leading to the Atlanta Olympics. I'd highly recommend you spend 10 minutes with a cup of tea watching it if you get chance!

The full article can be read here: