Choose any search engine on the net and search for articles on triathlons. You will find innumerable hits, but very few of them will deal with mental toughness in the sport of triathlon. Mental toughness is just as important as the physical training and many experts believe that no matter how much you physically train, you can still have an unpleasant race if you don’t train mentally. Why do we tend to overlook the mental aspect of sport when it does play such a vital role?
First, I think that we obviously look at the sport and know that no matter what our level of fitness, we will be pushing our bodies to levels of fatigue and exhaustion that we probably have never experienced. It is also obvious that we will be training for three disciplines and we will probably be pushing ourselves in each discipline to reach a new personal best during the course of our training. By pushing ourselves, we automatically will begin to be mentally tougher than we were, but I believe that is where we have to look deeper within ourselves to prepare to never quit.
Next, revisit your motivation for considering training for and completing your first triathlon. Are you doing it for the right reasons? You should have a good answer for this and it better not be “My friend is going to do one so I am going to do one, too!” You better make sure you have set the goal for yourself and you are not pursuing someone else’s goal. If you have the drive and desire for this sport, this is the first step in developing the mental toughness that you will need.
On any given day, you may not want to train, but that will be when some of your mental toughness will start being built. By forcing yourself to go ahead and train, you will be preparing your mind and body to continue get stronger. Most everyone comes out of the swim and is tired and the thought probably runs through a large majority of their minds to just stop. When you make the transition from bike to run, the thought may run through your mind to quit, but you will remember that you overcame this thought on many days of training.
Make sure you stay focused in training. In all sports, you need to remember that you play like you practice, which translates into you race like you train. If you don’t stay focused when you train, you can count on not staying focused when you race. Let me give you a perfect example: Most of today’s athletes are using heart rate training as an effective tool to aid them in staying focused when training. On a typical group ride from our local bike shop, we have the roadies that like to hammer everyone - you know the guys I’m talking about. Well, it never fails that someone who starts out on the ride and is, or should be content with staying in their target heart rate zones gets caught up with trying to keep up with the roadies. At the end of the ride, they have completely blown what was on their training plan for that day. They let their egos determine how they will train. When you get to a race, and a seventy year old passes you on the bike, you will want to forget about your game plan and chase that person down. However, by staying focused on your game plan, in training, you will prepare yourself mentally to race your race at your first triathlon.
Another part of mental preparedness is to know your equipment. At almost every race, I see someone not finish, because they had mechanical problems on the bike. I admit that there may be some things that are just insurmountable, but for the most part, it is usually just not being able to remedy the problem themselves. Know how to perform basic mechanical repairs on your bike such as changing a tire. If you have a flat on a training ride, repair it on the spot so that you can prove to yourself that you can do it on the side of the road. Most of all, prove to yourself that this “bump in the road” does not have to end your race. Changing a tire during a race for the first time is not the best time to learn how to do it.
Our minds are so powerful and many times, even though we have trained and prepared the best we know how, negative thoughts can creep into the picture on race day. I honestly believe if we fill our minds with positive thoughts during training we can focus on those same positive thoughts during an actual race. When I come across something that motivates me, I usually write it down and many times don’t have any idea where I got it from which is the case with the following. These are some quotes that I have repeated to myself while training and have helped me:
· Dare to soar - how successful you are is determined by your attitude.
· Failure is only a fact when you give up.
· Everyone gets knocked down, the question is: Will you get back up?
· Risk a change, overcome fear and win.
· When you discover it's your choice and your attitude, things start to happen!
· The secret of success is having the courage to begin in the first place.
· It's your choice - will you choose to be a victim or the victor?
· If you don't dare to begin, you don't stand a chance of getting there.
We all have to face the fact that eventually, we will have to face the thought of quitting, but by preparing to be mentally tough, we dramatically reduce the probability of this happening. I have honestly never been in a race that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind that I wanted to quit. The last race of this year made me fight more demons in my head than I ever have before, but because I had mentally prepared, I fought my way through to the finish line and didn’t quit. There is no reason why you can’t train to be mentally tough and never have to answer the question, “Are you a quitter when the going gets tough?”
“A winner never quits and a quitter never wins."
Copyright When Big Boys Tri 2003
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