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Mental training for triathletes 

Triathlons celebrated their 40th anniversary this year. They’ve come a long way since the first ad-hoc race in 1974. When comparing the first event to now you’ll notice the swim, cycle and run still remain, but that’s about it. There’s relatively little resemblance to the original event.

Signing up for a triathlon is not for the faint of heart. The challenge to conquer all three legs inspires athletes to train, prepare and compete. If you’re seeking solely a physical endurance race, then you may want to reconsider. Race day is the moment of truth that will test your physical abilities and your mental training.

There are ups and downs to the race. And when you’re focused, you’ll enjoy the challenge. But what happens when there’s a switch and suddenly you’re energy tanks?  Do you know how to keep from going into the black hole of negativity as your brain is screaming to drop out?

The mental training solution

Mental training is your secret weapon. Train your mind to overcome emotional hurdles. Start by figuring out what unravels your focus. Then learn how to quickly recover from those distractions.

Efficiency is your key to racing well. Similar to your physical game, it takes less effort to recover from a distraction when you know what throws your focus off course. Don’t squander all the hours spent preparing by minimizing the importance of a well-developed mental game.

Distractions fall into three main categories.

  • Equipment. Is your equipment functioning properly? If not, is there an easy, quick fix? Learn how to deal with possible equipment problems.
  • Physical. Are you properly hydrated and consuming enough calories? How’s your form? Take a quick body scan if you’re hurting to see if it’s an injury that needs medical attention or discomfort from exertion.
  • Mental Game. Whatever you focus on expands. Negative thoughts will zap your energy. That’s why you’re encouraged to notice what disrupts your focus. Here’s where mental training will help you quickly recover from disruptive thoughts.

Mental Game of Triathletes

Mental training prepares triathletes for the ups and downs in the race


5 common mental training oversights for triathletes:

  • Low confidence. Lack of self trust is the leading cause for distractions. It’s difficult to perform well when you doubt yourself.
  • Easily frustrated and lose composure. Negative emotions will throw off your race. Here’s where you may decide to quit too soon.
  • Dwelling on previous poor performance. You want the perfect race, but it’s difficult to let go of previous mistakes.
  • Over-thinking and perfectionism. Your head is working overtime by over-analyzing every little detail. Trying hard to avoid a mistake blocks you from performing your best.
  • Don’t want to be judged. There’s self-imposed pressure to do well because you don’t want to let others down.

The athletes who finish strong understand the importance of developing a solid mental game. They’re training to win. They may not be the top five finishers. That’s okay. Instead they’re challenging themselves to withstand extreme challenges.

Time, effort and energy

Something powerful occurs when time, effort and energy are devoted to your mental game. It’s similar to individual ingredients in a recipe which blend together for a rich, flavorful dish. Conscious, strategic mental training enhances the race experience.

Mental training fitness steps

  • Foundation. Assess where you are now.
  • Identify. Figure out your strong points and your challenges.
  • Grow. Decide how to work on your mental game to raise the bar.
  • Utilize. Add mental toughness challenges into your training program
  • Review. What’s working and what needs more work?
  • Enhance. Repeat to internalize the strategies

You’ll ride better on a fitted bike than just hopping on your friend’s spare. Well, mental training is similar to your bike. It’s rarely one size fits all.

Yes, common sports psychology tools include visualization and affirmations. And something is better than nothing. Devote your time, energy and effort strategically instead of winging it.  Mental training, when done right, helps you perform your best under pressure.

Who’s coaching you?

Consider this, to improve your swim you train with a swim coach. Optimize the cycling leg with a cycling coach. Well, imagine how your event would go if you sought out a performance coach to condition your mental game.

Triathlons are meant to challenge you physically and mentally. Your focus will waver in and out. Will you endure beyond the thoughts of quitting when you’re hurting?

The toughest moments in the race

Mental training prepares you for the toughest moments of the race. The challenge of a triathlon motivates you to train. This gives you something to get ready for. Guess what, most triathletes are physically ready. To race well, and enjoy the experience, means you’ve got to be mentally ready, too.

Challenge: You’re diverting energy away from your performance when you’re mental game is off. Bottom line, negativity is an energy drain. Increased tension reduces performance.  It’s something which can be tested. Go for a run when you’re feeling great. Rate the quality of your run, level of perceived exertion and your time. Then go on the same trail focusing all the things that are wrong and difficult. Once again rate the quality of your run, level of perceived exertion and your time.  Then compare the two.

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