March 17, 2011

It’s All in Your Head

At last week’s training camp after about five hours into our first long ride the inevitable rationalizing about whether I need to go out for a transition run afterward started to creep in.  This happens to me on nearly every long ride no matter what stage of training I’m in.

At around 90 miles into a 100-mile ride I was pretty cooked from the Tucson heat.  Add to that the hard effort I put in to close a gap that formed in the group, and just the mental focus of riding in a group, which I rarely do, for such a long period.  Thinking ahead about the optional 30-minute run following the bike was working its negative magic in the back of my mind.  By the time we finished the ride, I had decided to pass on the run and spend some time icing a sore foot.  I even got a bag of ice and sat there icing among the rest of the group just so they could see why I wasn’t going.

The Turning Point

Then a funny thing happened.  One of the campers asked who else was going on the run and another said “I’m going because I’m going to reward myself with a run for doing that hard bike.”  That’s when it hit me!  I was tending to the wrong part of my anatomy.  This wasn’t about my foot… it was all in my head.

Sure I really did have a foot issue but the foot only bothered me while cycling and the cycling was done.  What was really happening was that I had made the run a negative – an OPTION – instead of thinking about it as an important, positive training experience – an IMPERATIVE – like my fellow camper.  No wonder I didn’t go.  I convinced myself it was just too much effort before even trying.  I was losing the race on my way to the starting line!  And what was the lesson I was teaching myself?  I realized that if I’m thinking that way while training, what’s going to happen 80-90 miles into the biking leg at my next Ironman race?  I was reinforcing a bad behavior.

For me, there’s nothing more mentally difficult than getting off my bike and going out strong on the run.  And I know that what a person believes to be true IS.  That’s why training to be excited about a transition run is as important as the run itself.

So here are a few ideas I’ve come up with to help me.  Perhaps they’ll help you too:

Talk it up: Reframe the run in your mind.  Just like my fellow camper, talk about the run positively.  Get yourself excited and push out any negative thoughts around going out for the run or any other aspect of training or racing.  It’s simple… maybe not easy.  So start small and build momentum by practicing it with shorter rides and runs first.

See it and believe it: Yeah, I know it sounds like some self-help book.  But the fact is that visualizing it and learning to believe are keys to making it happen.  When those negative thoughts creep in take a few deep breaths, and let the negative stuff go as you exhale.  You’ll have enough to contend with on race day so get your mind on your side NOW.

Smile: I know it sounds nuts, but the fact is that it’s hard to be negative when you have a big grin on your face.  So be ready with some things that make you laugh.  A joke, a funny story, the last time to you forgot to unclip before braking, anything that gets you chuckling.  It’ll take some practice but smiling makes you happier and the happier you are about getting off your bike and going for a run the better you’ll be on race day.

In case it isn’t obvious, writing this article is as much for me as it is for you.  After all my years in the sport I still have to remind myself how much attitude matters in training and especially on race day.  Being excited about getting off the bike after a long ride and going for a run is an important skill to master, especially when you consider that, in the end, every triathlon comes down to a run.

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

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