Triathlon Training Tips: Find Your Focal Point

When racing and training for a triathlon, all athletes will have difficulties at one time or another. Often the rough patches hit on long training days, or late in the race, on the run. Athletes may feel tired, in pain, or simply not adequate to the task. This is the time when negative self-talk begins to creep in: "I can't do this!" or "I just want to quit."

At this point, of all the triathlon training tips you've received,? remember that you need to be able to "center" yourself, to find a focal point. The key is to have a mantra, and to use it.

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According to the American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition), a mantra is: "a sacred formula believed to embody the divinity invoked and to possess magical power, used in prayer and incantation." There's no need to limit the definition to only religious contexts, however. Those who practice meditation often rely on a mantra to find a focal point, but you do not have to be sitting quietly in your room on a small cushion to meditate. In fact, some might argue that triathlon can be a form of moving meditation.??

Examples of Exercise Mantras Using Words or Phrases

In the Austin Danskin women's triathlon, each swim wave is preceded by a collective recitation of a mantra. Each wave has a slightly different mantra, using this phrase: "I am a(n) [positive adjective] swimmer," e.g., "I am an awesome swimmer!" This phrase is an example of a positive affirmation used as an exercise mantra. Positive phrases can use either a general adjective, such as "great swimmer" or something more specific, such as "strong legs."

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Athletes may also use simply a word or two instead of complete phrases. Professional triathlete and marathon runner, Desiree Ficker, said in an interview that she had developed a mantra to help her focus. She noted that the marathon world record holder used the following as a mantra: "Strong Body—Strong Mind—Champion." Ficker decided hers would be: "Believe—Champion."


Although not quite a "mantra," counting can also work as a way to focus the mind to reach a meditative state. Even the pros count sometimes to keep focused on the task when the pain becomes difficult. For example, Ironman Champion Peter Reid said in an interview that he would simply count his steps from one to ten when the Ironman marathon became difficult for him. Another way to count when running is to count breaths, such as counting in for three breaths and out for two, as follows: 1-2-3, 1-2. 1-2-3, 1-2.

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Counting strokes can be quite useful for establishing focus in the pool. For example, try counting each stroke when swimming the length of the pool, and then start over with every length (or for each interval, such as each 100 yards). In an open water swim, try counting to 50 and then re-start the count, over and over, until reaching the finish. When I run, I count my breaths. In 1-2-3, and out 1-2, as follows: 1-2-3, 1-2. 1-2-3, 1-2.

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