There is no mistaking that the mind is very powerful. At some point in your development as an athlete, I am sure you have noticed this. No, I’m not talking about the ability to bend spoons or make objects across the room levitate…or make that person you are chasing down mysteriously cramp up so you can catch them. What I am referring to is the power of thought. You’ve all heard the cliché “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” There is a lot to be said about this. Controlling your thoughts and emotions on race day are extremely important and can determine whether or not you have a successful day (in whichever way you define success) or not. However, learning to control your attitude is not something that just happens. You have to train it just like you train your body. Here are a few ways that you can work on developing control over your mental state:
1: Focus on what you are doing. What do you think about when you are training? What you have to do after your done? How good that doughnut and beer will go together as your recovery blend? How crappy your day was at work? Certainly, there is a time and place for using exercise as a stress eliminator and to just escape. However, make sure you take a few workouts each week to be present. Focus on what you are doing. Listen to your breathing and learn to listen to what your body needs. Be present in the workout and think about…the workout! Mark out 1-2 workouts each week where you are going to visualize your next race.
2: Think about what you want to look like during race, what you will feel like, picture yourself being successful. If you have done the course before, include as much detail as possible into this process. Learn to be as stubborn in your workouts as you are in your job, with your kids/spouse/significant others, etc. Let’s face it, most triathletes have Type A stubborn personalities. Embrace that during your workouts. There will be a time in each hard set that you do where you have to make a decision, do you keep going as planned or do you peel off the route and go for pizza and beer? If you fold over like a wet noodle as soon as things get tough in a workout, what will stop you from doing that in a race? If you can learn to be stubborn in workouts, it is much easier to be stubborn and not fold in a race when things start to get uncomfortable.
3: Take intervals 1 at a time and ONLY focus on the interval at hand. Let’s take a common swim set for example: 20×100 @ race pace. If you get through the 5th one and all you are thinking about is “$%#*@, I have 15 of these left!?!” the chances of you finishing the set well are pretty small. If you focus on nailing just one more interval, you break the workout down into manageable pieces. You can always do 1 more. You can always do one more. You can always…you get the picture. This translates well into racing as well. Instead of thinking, “I have 2 miles left to swim? I have 100 miles left on this bike? Or I have to run HOW MUCH FARTHER???” think about holding great form to the next buoy, focus on pedaling smooth to the next aid station, and cruising on through one more mile of the run. Then remind yourself, you can always do 1 more. When training and racing, I often picture Herb Brooks from the movie “Miracle” with the whistle in his mouth saying “AGAIN!” “AGAIN!” Every time I get through another mile on the run…”AGAIN.”
4: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, REMEMBER WHY YOU DO THIS. Why is it important to you to spend your time doing this sport? What is it about this that you find fun? What MOTIVATES you? Think about the answer to these questions when things get tough in both training and racing. There will be a time when you want to quit, I promise you that. During the run of a triathlon, sometimes the thought goes from a stoic Herb Brooks shouting “Again” to a psychotic Ashton Kutcher shouting “NO AND THEN!!!” and beating up a speaker (obviously ‘Dude, Where’s My Car’). Focusing on the “WHY” is going to be the key to getting you through these moments.
Remember, this is a skill that you need to develop, but doing so is extremely important. The only two things you can control on race day are your attitude and your effort. By practicing controlling them in your workouts, you will be much more equipped to manage them well come race day.