Many triathletes spend months physically preparing for race day but give little to no thought about the focus preparation required for a triathlon.
Our sport includes all three: swim, bike, and run. Many athletes and some coaches see triathlon as three separate sports: Swim + Bike + Run. However, triathlon is one sport and should be seen as swimbikerun, in which every sport interferes or influences the others. When training for triathlon, athletes usually make the mistake of seeing it as 3 different sports.
Triathletes think that they should train for swimming like swimmers, bike like cyclists and run like runners. Athletes should not seek individual sports' personal records but instead, an overall faster result. Saving energy on the swim, reducing aerobic taxing and neuromuscular firing on the bike and teaching your body how to run on fatigued legs on tight muscles and reduced range of motion is triathlon!
Prime focus involves focusing only on performance-relevant cues in your attentional field. In other words, only focusing on cues that help you to perform your best. For triathletes, performance-relevant cues can include technique, tactics, your opponent, and time remaining. Prime focus gives you the ability to adjust your focus internally and externally as needed during the course of a competition.
Poor focus, in contrast, involves focusing on performance-irrelevant cues in your attentional field. That is, focusing on cues that will hurt your performance. There are two types of harmful cues. Interfering cues are those that will directly hurt your performance such as negative thoughts, anxiety, and concern over who your next opponent will be if you win. Irrelevant cues are those that simply distract you from an effective focus including what you'll have for dinner tonight or the project that you must finish by tomorrow.
The great thing about strong mindset is that you are not born with it. You don’t have to learn it at a young age. A strong mindset comes simply from the decision you make. You can start today and reach levels of your training, competition, and success that you never thought possible. Outstanding athletic prowess will take someone so far. Without a strong mindset you will not reach your full potential.
Everyone has the ability to build mental strength. Similar to building physical strength, developing mental muscle requires dedication and hard work. With practice, you'll gain an increased ability to regulate your thoughts, control your emotions, and behave productively despite your circumstances. It's impossible to feel mentally strong when you're engaging in self-destructive behaviors that sabotage your best efforts.
Even with the months of physical preparation leading into an Ironman© triathlon, success often comes down to what is happening in your head. A strong mind can lead a strong body to amazing results. If you’re willing to put in the physical time and suffering, take the time to sharpen your mental arsenal as well. Here are some key mental skills to hone along with your physical training.
Excitement is a positive type of stress that can still affect your body and mind in ways that aren’t optimal. How much activation you need depends on the individual and on the sport. If you’re so excited that you’re finding it hard to concentrate, then you may have passed your peak performance point. In order to assess how much excitement, or how much mental and physical activation are optimal for you, you would need to go back and reflect on all of your past competitions. When you think about your past races, you can try to assess how you were feeling before your race and determine how that factored into your performance. Thinking specifically about your best and worst races, you can see if there was a difference between how excited you were feeling before the race and determine how much is optimal for you. Once you know where you need to be, you can work on the tools to either calm yourself down or pump yourself up to get into your optimal state.
If you’re feeling unmotivated, irritable, angry, sad, or bored, or you hit a relatively small roadblock and fantasize about quitting your sport, these are possible signs of mental burnout. The most effective approach is to prevent this from happening. You need to be able to recognize your early signs of mental burnout and address it at that moment—be proactive instead of reactive. Take time off, find a new workout buddy, cross-train, reconnect with your goals, and remember what you love about your sport—these are all ways to help you get back on the path of feeling motivated and re-energized. It can also be good to reflect on the past several seasons to determine if there are any patterns to your mental burnout. See if your motivation tends to dip around the same time during each season so you can prepare for that in your training plan.
Motivation is what passion needs in order to give birth to success. Being passionate about something we just need that single push, that small encouragement. And once we are motivated, we become even more passionate, engage ourselves in action, thus making success inevitable.
It's no wonder triathletes are so well-respected: It can be hard enough for potential athletes to muster the motivation to master one sport, let alone three. And since triathletes must train for all three events in order to be successful competitors, that means a lot of time dedicated to preparation.
Often, the fact that triathlons do force athletes to prepare for multiple sports makes it easier for them to stay motivated. Rather than simply running or cycling every single day, triathletes split their efforts three ways. They're still logging hours of workouts to get into top physical shape, but they're doing it a lot less monotonously. Plus, when you consider athletes like marathon runners occasionally swap in sprints for distance running to push their bodies to cross into new physical frontiers, it makes sense from a workout perspective to mix things up. Tired of cycling? Take a few laps in the pool so leg muscles become accustomed to that sort of exertion as well. Running route getting old? Blaze a new trail through the woods and go easier on the pups.
Other ways to stay motivated include setting goals and designating rewards for reaching them. A triathlete can set up a schedule of increasingly competitive workouts and training exercises, with customizable rewards for each midway goal that's met. Maybe reaching a new level of preparedness means a fancy pair of running shoes or a better-quality bike, although it could just as easily be as simple as a gold star marking the day's success.
Music is a great motivator, too. Triathletes can load an MP3 player with lots of tunes that pump them up and encourage them when they hit the wall. Encouraging music also helps build confidence and psyche up the athlete before the big event.
Self-belief is all about the word ‘can’. When a triathlete believes in himself or herself, they know they can perform well. Realistically, no one can ever know for sure that they will perform well and be successful, but that is not what self-belief is about. Self-belief is about knowing that they can be successful.
When someone knows that they can perform well, it gives them something extra. Make no mistake, self-belief is powerful but it needs to be built on solid facts about yourself as an athlete. Self-belief is powerful but it’s not magic. Self-belief has power because it allows triathletes to access all of their ability. If the training’s not done, if the skills aren’t there, then neither will the performance, but self-belief allows triathletes to use that in training and all of their skills.
The opposite of self-belief, and a triathlete’s worst enemy, is self-doubt. Self-doubt is that little voice in your head that says you can’t do something. Self-doubt is very common and is a normal part of human nature. Normal or not, it doesn’t help us achieve our goals, especially in triathlon. So, how do we get past self-doubt and start to believe? Like many things in the area of mental performance, there are some reasonably simple skills and tools that can be used to build self-belief. One part of the answer to building self-belief comes from looking at how self-doubt develops.
Self-doubt develops and is strengthened over time by consistent negative thoughts. All the doubts, all the questions, and all the negativity that grow self-doubt come from repetition and consistency. So part of the answer to building self-belief comes from the same concept. Triathletes need to have consistent and repeated positive thoughts.
A triathlete understanding their strengths is crucial for developing self-belief. When a triathlete knows they have certain strengths that they can rely on during racing it helps them to see how they can perform well and get the job done.
Triathletes also build self-belief through listening to and taking on board positive feedback from others. When other people reinforce that you are good at what you do it helps to believe that you can perform well and be successful. When people (coaches, training partners, competitors, media, etc.) offer you positive feedback, it’s important to take it on and use it to fuel your self-belief. (Written by Matt Ahlberg)
Boost your Mental Toughness
By T.J. MurphyMake the commitment.
Build confidence with difficult workouts.
Know the purpose of each workout.
Make the race a research project.
Perform pre-race simulations.
Focus on what can be controlled.
Don’t race unprepared.
When racing, think through the tough patches.
Conduct a thorough post-race analysis.