Most triathletes kick off the year with clear goals and a spring race or two to shake off the post-season cobwebs. By mid-season, however, many triathletes struggle to maintain their motivation as training starts to feel less exciting and more routine. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, here are a few tips to stay focused on your goals and fired up about reaching them.
Physical versus Mental Training
If you’ve ever listened in on a conversation between triathletes, you are likely to hear, “How many hours do you train each week? What training plan do you follow? Do you train by FTP?” Triathletes measure everything, from total training hours per week, to how much time they spend in specific zones, to their distance in each discipline, often with the help of gadgets and online training logs. Physical training is beneficial; no one is disputing that. All things being equal, though, building mental strength alongside fitness is the key to success. Why? Because the mind is in control of the body. What you think about yourself and your capability is the primary determinant in how well you carry out a task. So, the next time you’re swimming, riding your bike, or running, focus on strengthening your belief system—what you believe is true about yourself. Train your mind to be confident, use kind words with yourself, and know that you are capable of reaching any goal you set out to achieve.
Know Your “Why”
Training for a triathlon takes a lot of time and energy, and frankly, it can be tough to fit into the mix of career, life, and family responsibilities. Whether you’re a brand-new or veteran triathlete, you need to be clear on why you’re spending your valuable time training for triathlons, or you’ll struggle to prioritize training when you hit a time crunch. Think of your “why” as your foundation; everything else you do in your training is built on that foundation, so it needs to be solid. Your intention is a commitment to yourself. Once you know your intention, don’t just write it down. Every day when your feet hit the floor at zero dark thirty, remind yourself of your intention. Doing so will help you align your daily life with your goals, such as going to bed early when you have a five a.m. masters swim session, adapting workouts to your schedule rather than fitting them in as an afterthought, and being mentally present during training sessions.
What’s the biggest obstacle between you and achieving your goals? Here’s a hint: it’s not time. Fear is what discourages you from setting BIG goals, and it can keep you from feeling fully committed to those goals you do set. Fear is that whisper in your ear saying, “Slow down, you’re following the wrong training plan, you aren’t training hard enough, you’re a terrible runner, you can’t swim.” We all fear that if we set a big, scary goal and shout it out to the world, we might fail to reach said goal. But remember: the only way to fail is to quit. And that is not an option, right? Don’t allow fear to get in your way. Go after your goals with a clear intention (your why) and an expectation that you’ll achieve them through daily, consistent efforts.
It’s a common belief that some are born tougher than others. But the truth is, resilience is earned, not given. It’s painless to set big goals and earth-shatteringly awesome to achieve them, but the path to success isn’t paved or flat. Most success stories are long and hard, rife with setbacks and disappointments. The secret to staying mentally in the game is to be consistent day in and day out, whether you feel like it or not. Welcome the hardships, failures, and tough-love lessons, and learn from them. They build resilience, something every successful athlete has earned.
Compete with Your Competition
Triathletes are an interesting breed. A common pre-race ritual for the competitive athlete involves scouring the race participant list in search of age-group rivals. But rather than dreading a rival at the starting line who’s going to show you up, consider how those athletes’ presence will help bring out the best in you. Rather than competing against the competition, compete with them. Use their energy and presence as encouragement without unfavorably comparing yourself. A dear friend once told me there is enough success to go around for everyone. One athlete’s success does not take away from your outcome. Believe in yourself and compete alongside your peers.
Focus on the Process
Triathletes typically define their success by their finish time or age group placement. While that’s certainly one way to measure performance, it’s just one part of the story. There are many factors that go into a race-day outcome such as execution, having a fueling and hydration plan, pacing, realistic expectations, and strong mental discipline. Keep your mind with your body at all times. Focus on swimming during the swim portion, cycling while you are on the bike, and running while you’re running—don’t let your mind wander to the finish chute. You’re not there yet! To succeed in a competitive environment, you must focus on the process and stay present in the moment. The outcome will take care of itself.
Quiet Your Mind
If you could record the conversation you have with yourself during a race, what would you hear? Encouragement or ridicule? Especially when the going gets tough, it can be hard to avoid falling into the trap of negative self-talk. If the mind is in control of the body, how do we do our best if our mind is full of chatter? To help quiet the mind when it inevitably starts causing trouble, go back to your foundation. Remember your intention: why are you doing this? What do you expect of yourself and what do you believe to be true about yourself? Then relax, enjoy the journey, and let your body do what it has been trained to do: swim, bike, and run.