Mental Preparation for Triathletes – Your Body is Ready, But is Your Mind?

Mental Preparation for Triathletes – Your Body is Ready, But is Your Mind?

You are weeks deep into your training program and your body is getting stronger as the miles tick by.  You are swimming like Lucy Charles-Barclay, riding like Magnus Ditlev and running like Anne Haug.  But have you broken a mental sweat?

While many of the professional athletes have devoted some of their training hours to working on the mental aspect of racing, it is not something that many of the age group athletes prioritise.  Between trying to squeeze in as many training sessions as “adulting” will allow, that does not seem to leave us with much time to train that beautiful brain.  However, research is showing that sharpening your mental game could go a long way to unlocking a breakthrough performance.

Set Goals
Training for a triathlon can be a long and lonely process, but it does not have to be.  While many of your hours will be spent training on your own, there is undoubtedly a network of family and friends supporting you every step of the way so get them involved!  When you are setting your goals, they can be process (e.g. holding your running form at the backend of the run) or outcome (e.g. finishing in the top 10) oriented.  It is important that these goals are achievable and realistic.  After you have set your goals, share them with your crew.  Having a collective investment is a great way to keep yourself on track and accountable, all the way to the finish line.

Harness Your Mind
Visualisation is a valuable tool that could help you take the next step in improving your performance.  The brain interprets the use of imagery very literally.  When you consciously picture yourself executing physical processes, this activates the same areas of the brain that you use when you actually perform that task.  Going through these scenarios over and over again in your mind can translate directly to better realised results and increased levels of confidence and competency.

Positively Mental
In most race photographs of the great Chrissie Wellington, she almost always has a huge smile on her face.  While that could stem in part from her crushing the competition, Chrissie has often spoken about maintaining a positive attitude no matter how tough the situation.  Whether in training or during a race, there are going to be highs and lows so it is crucial that we learn to roll with the punches.  Mental toughness is our ability to cope with discomfort and is something that can be trained.  Whenever you encounter a harder day, hold on to the things that you are doing well.  Learn to push away negative sentiments and lean into positive self talk.  Smiling more might give you that extra physical boost, plus your race photographs will look great.

Routine, Routine, Routine
Frank Herbert famously wrote, “Fear is the mind killer.”  Identify what your fears and anxieties are, it is normal to have them.  But do not give them any more power than that!  Once you have made the decision to overcome these issues, you can put in place the necessary physical actions.  Having routines can help you take back control by keeping you centered, allowing you to block out external factors and distractions.  Slowing down your breathing, meditation and visualisation are other methods you can use to keep your head in the game.

Race Day Challenges
Even the best laid plans can unravel when you least expect it.  The mantra often repeated is that we hope for the best while preparing for the worst.  In the weeks leading up to your race, actively identify potential areas of concern.  During training, go through various scenarios that you feel might be cause for concern then practice how you will overcome them.  Lock those positive experiences away and you will be able to call on them if a problem should rear its ugly head on race day.

Stay Focused & Engaged
Depending on the distance you are tackling, race day can be a long affair.  The weeks and months of training to be ready…even longer.  Even when fatigue starts to set in, resist the urge to simply go through the motions.  Remember your goals and what has driven you to put in the hours.  During training, be grateful for every lap swum, every ride completed and every mile run.  When race day arrives, take Eminem’s advice to “lose yourself in the moment” – accept the pre-race nerves, embrace the challenging conditions and enjoy the culmination of your hard work.

If you have been focused on squeezing out every last ounce of physical performance from your body, take a breather and consider putting some work into your mental preparation as well.  Sharpening up the mental skills at your disposal could be the key to unlocking the next level of your triathlon performance.


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