Read these 10 The Mental Approach to Triathlons Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Triathlon tips and hundreds of other topics.
What are your reasons for completing a triathlon? It may be for health and fitness, or it could be that you just want a challenge. At some point in almost every race the going will get tough and you will need to draw mental strength from the reasons you are competing. Inevitably you will ask yourself “why am I doing this?” Your body wants to quit but your mind must stay strong and resist this temptation. Have a realistic but positive attitude about the pain you are experiencing, but don't give up. For many individuals incorporating a mantra can help. Phrases such as ‘one foot in front of another' or “just a couple of more miles” allow you to keep pushing yourself when things get difficult. Keep repeating this phrase and do what is necessary to achieve your goals.
In a triathlon, much of the focus is on physical training. The truth is that most athletes have the physical preparation needed to complete their goal event. However, it's the lack of mental preparation which leads to suboptimal performance on race day. One way to train the mind is through mental imagery. Mental imagery, often referred to as visualization, is the practice of mentally rehearsing your actual race experience. For your goal race, try to mentally put yourself on various parts of the race course. If the race has a particularly challenging bike section with hills, see yourself powerfully climbing the hills. You can also practice imagery during training by pretending the hill you are climbing on the bike is the one you'll have to climb in your key race. Other examples of visualization may include swimming in the ocean or running in the heat. Try using imagery several times per week to mentally prepare for your upcoming event.
The triathlon is an exhilarating and enjoyable leisure pursuit; however, it doesn't take long for your triathlon pursuits to move from habit to obsession. Becoming obsessed with the sport dramatically increases the likelihood of burnout. Unfortunately, the signs of burnout are not easily detected. Have you been training almost every day for months on end? If so, you probably feel very fit, have your weight under control and believe that taking off a day or two will negatively impact your fitness. You can get too much of a good thing. Are your race performances slipping over the past months, even though you've been putting in the same amount of effort? If workouts have become dull or you no longer enjoy training, you may be headed towards burnout.
Here are several ideas you can use to prevent burnout.
Many triathletes are self-coached, meaning they either plan their own workouts or use an existing training plan from a book or website. Self-coached athletes can be very successful, but another option becoming more popular among very busy individuals is to hire a coach. A triathlon coach can be beneficial to athletes who do not have the time, or aren't interested in investing the time needed to develop a training plan. In addition to scheduling workouts, a coach can help you improve or correct technique problems, decrease the risk of overtraining, offer objective feedback on your training and race performance, and keep you on track to achieving your long-term goals. A coach takes the guess work out of training and lets you focus on the fun aspects of the triathlon, training and racing.
Also, one final advantage of hiring a professional triathlon coach is that it allows you to spend more time with family and on other hobbies.
One powerful training tool that every triathlete has in their arsenal is positive self-talk. Positive self-talk includes words of encouragement to use as doubt starts to creep in, or when things get tough during a race. Like anything else, positive self-talk is a skill that must be practiced. You probably practice self-talk during training and don't even realize it. Think about it for a minute. What do you say to yourself during a tough workout? Is this self-talk positive or negative? As the adage goes, “you race like you train,” so if your self-talk is negative in training, it is most likely negative as the race gets tough. Ultimately this leads to less than optimal race performance. One opportunity for positive self talk is just prior to your swim start. Doubt starts to creep in as you look out at the buoys and think to yourself “wow, that sure is a long way.” You may also inspect the competition and start to feel intimidated. Plan in advance what you will say to yourself in these situations. You might say, “I've swum this far in practice, I can definitely do this” or “I am going to do the best I can and not worry about my competitors.” Use this type of positive self-talk as often as needed to get you to the finish line.
The triathlon is a solo sport; however, realize that you can't do it alone. You must first get family support because triathlon(ing) is a very time consuming and expensive hobby. If loved ones are not on board with your pursuits, then it may be more difficult to accomplish your goals. Sit down with family and discuss how much time and money you can afford to devote to a triathlon. Family support means more than being there to see you cross the finish line. Support includes all of the little things, such as words of encouragement, doing extra chores around the house in your absence, or being available to pick you up if you have a flat tire on your bike 20 miles from home. As a reward for your family's support, one idea is to schedule a race or two in vacation spots so that they get to have a mini vacation while you complete your race. It's a win-win situation.
Friends should also be recruited as allies assisting you in achieve your goals. Friends can be recruited as training partners. If you have friends that swim, bike or run, they can help keep you on track towards your goal. For example, if you have a hard workout planned in which you plan to swim, bike and run, invite a friend who enjoys running to meet you at a designated location to motivate you during your run. You may be tired, seeing a friendly face will add a little spring in your step. Including family and friends in your triathlon journey can be very rewarding and can create many wonderful memories that will last a life time.
Planning your race season is the initial step to ensuring triathlon success. You may start the planning process by searching online or asking other triathletes about local races they could recommend. Depending on where you live, races may be held as early as March and may continue until October. After your races are planned, start defining your goals. If you are a beginner, goals will be quite different than they are for a more seasoned athlete. The goal for most beginners is to finish your planned events. Map out races so that you do no more than one or two events per month. This gives you plenty of recovery time between events. The main aspect of fitness needed to finish your race with a smile is endurance. You should slowly build up your exercise mileage for each sport to within 10-15% of race distance. If you are one of those athletes who needs the confidence gained from being able to swim, bike, and run the entire distance prior to the event then go for it; just realize that it is not necessary.
More seasoned, competitive athletes should set specific goals related to performance. You do not have to win your age group to be competitive. To reach performance goals you should prioritize your races as A, B, and C events.
Even the best athletes experience setbacks from time to time. Realize that it is out of your control and don't let it get you down. In the grand scheme of things, setbacks are minor bumps in the road. Look to the future. Make plans to resume your training when the issue is resolved. Whether the setback is personal or health-related, see this as an opportunity to persevere. If your setback is an injury, one option might be to train in the other sports until the injury improves. One of the greatest benefits of the triathlon is that cross-training is a must! If you injure your shoulder, for example, it might be possible to continue cycling and running for a couple of weeks until your shoulder heals, allowing you to get back in the pool. Attempt to maintain your aerobic fitness with the other sports and follow the appropriate recovery and rehabilitation process. Also, if you are less active than normal, be conscious of your food intake to prevent weight gain during the layoff. Keep a positive attitude and you'll be back to 100% before you know it.
One helpful method of monitoring your triathlon progress is by keeping a workout log. A detailed training log not only lets you know if goals are being met but also indicates when adjustments need to be made to your training schedule. It should only take a few minutes each day to log workouts, but the benefits are tremendous. Basic record keeping of your workouts each day should consist of distance, intensity and workout time. Other important parameters often logged are weather conditions, morning resting heart rate, weight, sleep, and general comments about the workout (tired, sore, etc…). You may also want to rate on a scale from 1-10 how the workout felt. Several popular strategies used to track workouts include: (1) writing down information into a notebook, (2) using a computer program such as Microsoft Excel, and (3) on-line record keeping utilizing various triathlon/fitness websites. Each of these logging techniques has strengths and weaknesses. To ensure consistent record keeping, use the method that you are most comfortable with and is most convenient for you.
What do you hope to accomplish with your training over the next six months? Goal setting is a key ingredient for consistent improvement in triathlon. Too many individuals do not look past their next workout or upcoming race. Without direction, your training sessions are completed haphazardly, leading to inconsistent race performances. Effective goals are accomplished by using the acronym SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time.
Specific—determine what it is you really want to achieve in the upcoming race season and why. Typically, you should have 3 specific long term goals for the season. One example of a long term goal may be to complete the California Half Ironman. Now you must develop goals in the short term to allow completion of this half ironman.
Measurable--- This determines if you have met your goals. Measurable short-term goals are used to reach the longer term goals. Setting a goal of finishing an olympic-distance triathlon by the end of summer is a measurable goal used to prepare for the half ironman at the end of your season. You can add specificity to this goal by including the name of your target race.
Action-oriented--- How do you plan to achieve your goals? Take action by planning the types of workouts (milestones) you must complete to successfully attain your goals. How often is it necessary to swim, bike, and run each week to make your goal(s) a reality? Maybe you should begin strength training, for instance, to gain strength on the bike portion of this race.
Realistic—Of course the goals you set must be achievable. For instance, it is unrealistic to set a goal of winning your age group, especially if this is your first race. There is a balance between setting challenging goals that are realistic, and unrealistic goals which only lead to frustration and discouragement.
Time--- Goals must have deadlines. It could be a month, 6 months, or even a year, but there needs to be a definite date set for the attainment of your goals. Be sure to put your goals down on paper and place them in areas where they are visible. This reminds you of the goal and the commitment needed to make the goal a reality.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|