February 17, 2011

How To Be Like Mark Allen

Being calm and prepared is the killer combination when it comes to intelligent triathlon racing.  You can log all the training time you want but if you show up frantic race morning the little things that will inevitably go wrong will just make you crazy and negatively impact your performance.  The same thing goes once you’re out on the course, particularly in the longer races.  Somewhere around the 3-4 hour mark, the importance of your race goals can start to fade, particularly when things don’t go as planned.  Staying calm can make all the difference in how your day will go.  And this isn’t just my opinion.

Mark Allen in his Ironman training presentation at the 2010 USA Triathlon coaches’ symposium emphasized mental training, which he referred to as Mindset.  While he acknowledged the importance of being positive and having motivating goals, he put much more emphasis on being calm and having a strategy to get you to a calm state during the race.   His method was to take a single deep breath, acknowledge the issue, and let it go.  I think this is a good method and would also suggest that you be prepared to use more than one breath just in case your ability to let go isn’t as well developed as Mark Allen’s.

There’s no secret method to being calm… like all things, it’s all about training.  Or should I say incorporating a “calming practice” into your existing training.  The beauty is that no extra time is required.  The key is to practice some ‘Active Breathing’ in your swim, bike and run sessions starting early in the season, particularly in the aerobic base building sessions, in order to reap the benefits on race day.


Count To Ten

Just Breathe: During each of your swim, bike, and run sessions, consciously count your breaths from 1 to 10 with a deep inhale and full exhale being 1 count.  Repeat this process 5-6 times in each session.  It’s that simple.  Personally I find this easier to do when cycling and running.  Swimming can be more of a challenge especially if you’re a bi-lateral breather but stick with it.  You’ll get there.


The Payoff

Stop the Noise: Focusing on your breath forces you to push out the endless, distracting mental chatter, gets you into the moment, relaxes the whole body, and puts you in control.  Practice this early and often in your training so you can easily call on this skill when you need it most, such as when you have a flat tire with just a few miles to go.

Build the Base: Taking deep breaths often forces you to slow down a bit.  This is good thing, particularly if you’re building your aerobic base…hard to take deep breaths when you’re going too fast. It’s also an effective way to bring your heart rate (HR) down between intervals.

Pump Up the Fun Quotient: When you’re relaxed, calm, and in control you will have more fun training and racing.  Oh yeah, you’ll be a lot more fun to be around too!

That’s it for this week.  Train safe, stay healthy, and see you at the races.

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