“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Triathlon can be an intimidating sport. The idea of training for and completing three sport disciplines for one race can feel overwhelming for many people.
Even the most experienced triathletes can let their worries get in the way of optimum performance. With proper training, support and mental preparation, those worries can fade away as you swim, bike and run your way to that finish line. It’s an amazing experience and one of great accomplishment.
For athletes new to the sport or ones considering doing a triathlon for the first time, the importance of mental training is often overshadowed by the emphasis put on physical training in swimming, cycling and running. But, the physical and the mental must work together for the best outcome.
As an ambassador for USA Triathlon, when I go out into the community to encourage athletes to try a triathlon, I often hear these doubts:
“I’m not athletic enough. I don’t think I can do that.”
“I am not a good swimmer. I’m too scared to try this.”
“I don’t have the right gear. My bike is too old.”
But, guess what? As an athlete myself and a coach, I hear the experienced triathletes express worries as well. Every single triathlete in the world has had doubts about what he or she can accomplish. I completely understand this feeling. Testing ourselves in new ways is scary. Fear of failure is real. I said a lot of these same things to myself right before my first triathlon, “What the heck am I doing?? I can’t do this.” But, unless we take that first step towards a new challenge we can never know how that accomplishment feels. As athletes, we train our bodies to be strong but we often underestimate the need to train our minds to be resilient and think positively. We need to teach ourselves to believe in our strengths and follow that road to success.
You are the only person in the world powerful enough to tell yourself what you can or can not do. You can focus on the negative self-talk and start believing it or you can invest optimistically in yourself and grow in amazing ways. You have ownership of that decision. It takes time to train your mind to hit big goals just as it takes time to train your body. I still have moments when I talk myself out of doing things which my body is absolutely capable of doing. My personal focus this season is to emphasize my mental training and apply these skills not only as an athlete but also as a mother, a wife, a teacher and a coach. We are who we believe ourselves to be, for better or for worse.
So, let’s make it for the better, right? Let’s invest in ourselves in all the good ways!
Here are five mental strength techniques that I find useful to build up self-confidence and the positive, race ready mindset.
1) Set a specific and personal goal for yourself both in the short term (training) and the long term (race outcome)
Once set, tuck it somewhere safe and focus your mental energy into the training needed to attain that end goal. This is your road map and you want to stick to it. Many athletes start in this sport with simple goals which become more specific as the their self-confidence and experience grows.
2) Build confidence with difficult training workouts
This will teach you that your body and mind can handle pressure on race day. If you have battled and conquered the hardest of workouts in training, fear diminishes and you gain mental strength. You will know in your heart and mind that you can make it to the finish line! Hit those key workouts and you have the confidence to succeed on race day.
3) Focus on what you can control
Let go emotionally of what you can not. We as athletes have control over our decisions, reactions, emotions and thoughts. In the world of triathlon, we also have control over our gear, our training and our race preparation. We do not have control over other athletes or the weather. Invest your time in the things which matter and let go of the rest.
4) Plan for the unexpected
Think through how you will handle situations as they arise in training and on race day. Having a plan in place will reduce stress and help you solve issues more efficiently if something does go awry. Refocus negative thoughts into positive affirmations and talk yourself up. Be present in the moment on the race course. Pre race simulations are a fantastic way to work through concerns about race strategy. Meditation and visualization are wonderful preparation tools to calm the mind and body.
5) Do your research and stay informed
Knowledge is power. The more you learn about triathlon, the more comfortable you will be. Use this information as you practice your race plan, transitions, nutrition, hydration and clothing choices during your training period. See what works best for you. Repetition and routine means less surprises. And, less surprises means a more confident you. If you feel like you need more support and accountability, consider hiring a coach or joining a local triathlon club.
Courtney M Culligan, M.Ed., TriAptitude, LLC Owner/Head Coach, Team Infinit Performance, IRaceLikeAGirl, USA Triathlon National Ambassador, USA Triathlon,USA Cycling and, Slowtwitch Run Certified Coach