On race day, it's often the competitor with the stronger mental approach that reaches his or her goals and dreams. You have the power to train your mind as you train your muscles, and it takes observation, practice and a desire to change what is not working. What are the messages you tell yourself? Are they positive and helpful or negative and detrimental? How can you change that message and change your performance?
Whether your goals are to finish first or "not finish last", the following tips are applicable to all levels of triathletes.
Goal setting and Achievement
Whatever your goals, set them for the short and long term: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Write them down and revisit them often. The goals you set begin the visualization process, so remind yourself how much you want them and how hard you're willing to work to achieve them. Once you've written down your goals, go back and make sure you have both process (ex: focusing on a strong arm pull in the swim) and outcome (specific finish places, times or qualification) goals.
You Have the Power to Choose Your Thoughts
Many athletes wrongly assume that the mental aspect of performance is innate and unchangeable. In reality, systematic mental training can have a similar impact on performance as physical workouts do. Choosing your thoughts and attitudes can make or break your race experience and result. When negative, powerless thoughts arise, simply flip the switch.
Train Your Brain as You Train Your Muscles
Triathlon is a sport of repetitive motion. On the swim, bike and run, you repeat the same motion over and over again, and it takes millions of these repetitions to improve. The same concept applies to mental skills acquisition. The more you practice, the more you strengthen your mind and attitude.
"I was afraid, but I did it anyway." We all face fears. It's up to you if the fear wins or if your dreams and goals win on race day.
You may not be able to control what confronts or challenges you on race day, but by training the mind, you can control your reaction to those variables. Uncertainty is a common anxiety trigger and is inherent in all triathlons. The one thing you can control is your own preparation, so this should have your full attention and focus. By developing consistent routines and ways of coping with distractions, uncertainty can be reduced and you are less likely to be negatively impacted by external factors.
Distractions occur constantly at the race site: friends, family, environmental conditions, last-minute course changes, delays, irrelevant or unhelpful thoughts, coaches, teammates, opponents' comments, etc. Learn to clear your mind, remove yourself from these distractions and refocus on your tasks and routines.