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Swim 2.4 miles. Bike 112 miles. Run 26.2 miles.

My body has done it 27 times. But my brain is still a first-timer.

My brain doesn’t think in terms of 140.6 miles. It thinks in chunks.

It hasn’t ever raced a 2.4 mile swim, nor has it done that distance in training.

If I set out to swim 5,000 yards continuous, I just focus on the first 500 yards. And when that feels overwhelming, especially when the arms feel like someone filled them with concrete, I just focus on the first 5 laps.

I’ll eventually reach 5,000 yards during that swim session, but I keep the end goal in the back of my head. In the forefront is just a little chunk — 5 laps — 5 more laps — 20 more strokes. (Focus on the things you can control: your breathing, stroke count, body position).

The same goes for a 13-mile training run. My body has done these heaps of times, but my brain is just focused on the first trail loop (2 miles).

If it’s 9 miles on the treadmill — which can be absolutely dreadful — I count songs. The songs on my iPod are approximately 4 minutes long. So if I need to run for one hour, then I need to make it to 15 songs. (Of course, running for 15 songs would overwhelm me. So I just focus on making it through the first song. Then the next. Then the next. Then I enjoy a brief celebration when I’ve made it halfway, to song 8).

In 2003, I did my first iron-distance triathlon: the Full Vineman in Sonoma County, CA. People would ask, “How do you expect to run a marathon after biking 100-plus miles in that heat . . . and after such a long swim?”

If I thought about the run like THAT, it would make me dizzy.

By chunking the race, though, your brain can simply focus on swimming to the first buoy. Then the next. Then getting to the turnaround.

Of course, on the bike you can focus on simply making it to the first aid station, and then to the first climb, the first downhill, the Special Needs station.

And when you get to the run, chunk it into the smallest, heartiest pieces that work for you. Perhaps you focus on the first six miles. And then the next six. Then maybe you just run one mile. And then you’re half way there! Perhaps the next seven are gut-wrenching, but you’ve prepared for this! And once you make it to mile twenty, you’re almost finished.

Chunking, of course, is not restricted to sport. This technique can be applied to the successful execution of almost any task that, at first glance, may appear overwhelming.

Given enough time, most goals can be attained. But if you can’t get your brain to believe it’s possible, your body will not likely cooperate. Break each task into bite-sized pieces, and watch your appetite grow.

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