When we do a triathlon, we step out of our comfort zone and push the boundaries of what we previously thought possible. This journey often leads to experiences that most people won’t ever have. However, the journey takes great mental toughness and a vital sporting attribute that some say you either have or you don’t. But as with physical fitness, mental fitness can be trained and controlled.
The greats of the sport would tell you that you must train for adversity and suffering. One of triathlon’s most infamous coaches, Brett Sutton (the former coach of multiple Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington) trains his athletes for mental toughness using extreme measures. One example is a session where the athlete will run a marathon on a treadmill in a room no bigger than a large wardrobe, where no MP3 players or TV’s are allowed! Similarly, he never allows drinks bottles during pool sessions as you can’t drink during the swim portion of a race. He tells his athletes to get out of their comfort zone on a regular basis. Now, these measures aren’t required to produce mental toughness, you can see the lengths some athletes go to to gain that ‘mental edge.’
Below are some tips that can help you discover and nurture your mental training:
Develop a confidence mantra. Repeat it to yourself daily. Whether you believe it or not initially is irrelevant. With repetition you can trick your mind. “I can do this. I am strong, healthy and fit.” During the race repeat: “Calm. Confident. Strong. In Control.” When you begin to have doubts, repeat your mantras!
2. Motivation & Subsequent Positive Visualization
Remind yourself why you want to do this race or this sport. Remind yourself of a time, really visualize it, when you felt strong, positive and motivated either during a race or a training session. Bring this image into your mind regularly. Picture your friends and family being proud of your achievements and willing you to succeed.
Try to bring the scene to life by using colors, sounds and situations with a high emotional attachment. Visualize the details of the finish line as you finish your race strong, proud, happy, in control and successfully.
A key skill in racing is staying focused at the task at hand. Tell yourself that hard work will pay off and focus on those external factors that will keep your mind engaged on the task at hand. Counting is a great strategy for staying focused. Count your cadence or pedal strokes.
Others will focus on the athlete in front of them as they try to pass and then move onto the next athlete.
Focus is a skill that needs to be practiced in training sessions. Use training sessions to focus and then bank your focus experiences for race day. Know that you have what it takes for a great race day performance.
Concentrate on only your own performance, as you cannot control your competitors. Stay in the moment of your race and focus on giving your best performance at that moment.
4. Handling Pressure
Start by accepting that anxiety is inevitable in competition and know you can cope with it. Learn how to let go of mistakes quickly if things do not go the way you want. A key part of mental training is about compensating, adjusting, and trusting. If plan A does not work, go to plan B or C. Mentally rehearse these plans.
Whether you think you can or think you cannot, you’re probably right.
5. Prepare for Success by developing a Plan
Develop a systematic pre-performance routine that switches on a desired state of mind that’s ‘ready to race!’ Examples are listening to a special playlist on your music player, or taking four calm deep breaths before the swim start and focusing on feeling strong and competent in the water.
Write out your race plan and leave no rock unturned. Make sure to address everything in detail and visualize your race as you plan. Then discuss your race strategy with us to make sure you have are ready to have the race of your life!