October 21, 2010

Raising Your Mental Threshold

Success in triathlon training and racing involves sharpening both mental and physical skills.

There are plenty of ways to determine your current physical condition and skill level, such as lactate threshold and VO2 tests and, if you’re lucky, real-time video analysis.  When it comes to measuring your readiness for the mental aspects of triathlon racing, though… well, that’s a whole new ballgame.

An honest self evaluation is your starting place.  I’ve come up with anywhere from six to twelve separate but interrelated components for “testing” your mental preparedness for triathlon.  Topping the list are motivation, confidence, determination, enjoyment, discipline, mindfulness or being present, and optimism.

Now grab a paper and pencil and make a list of these components and any others you think are important.  To determine your strengths and weaknesses, use a simple rating scale, such as one to five or one to ten, and grade yourself.  Use this self evaluation like you would a video of your swim.  Identify your weak areas and pull together a plan for improvement.

Bottom line when it comes to mental training for triathlon training and racing is this:  start early, stay focused, build momentum.  Sounds a whole lot like the physical side of training, doesn’t it?

Here are a few tricks to get you going:

  1. Motivation:  This is by far the most important mental aspect a triathlete can develop.  Someone much smarter than me once said, “You can do anything as long as you have enough reasons.”  Your first step is to write down your goals and then list out why you want to accomplish them.  Make sure you’re emotionally attached to your reasons in order to maximize their positive impact.  You should be waking up every day jazzed about getting one step closer to your goal!
  2. Mindfulness or Being Present:  This component has two key aspects:  The first is to develop a clear, calm, unattached state of awareness of the present moment; the second is to maintain this “calm” during your triathlon training and racing.  You can develop a clear mind by counting breaths from one to ten and practice emptying your mind while breathing.  Look to build to five or six repetitions of ten breaths at least once a day.  Then while training, strive to replicate this state of calm to focus on your breathing, heart rate, the power in your legs, your thirst, etc.  Being present can help you make the best decision at each moment… versus over thinking, second-guessing, and making poor judgments.
  3. Discipline:  This is also a two-part thing.  Discipline to train consistently over an adequate period of time to accomplish your goal is critical.  No less important is following your training plan as closely as possible.  Of course, superseding all of this is having the discipline to do the intensity and volume your goal demands while not over-doing it… and backing off where necessary.
  4. Enjoyment:  The vast majority of triathletes are amateurs and we do this for fun!  Last time I checked, this sport is voluntary… so make sure your form of fun is working for you.  If swimming, biking, and running – individually or collectively – aren’t your idea of a good time you might want to take up another sport or hobby… because you’re going to do a lot of these things while training for and racing in triathlons.

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