Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TTT: The Mental Game

A couple of weekends ago I attended a USAT Pacific NW meeting where we had various speakers present on all things triathlon.  One speaker, Olympian Barb Lindquist, led off with a powerful presentation about mental preparation.  Sometimes transition is called the fourth discipline of triathlon but I personally think mental training is more important than a superfast transition time.

One of the tips Barb talked about was about staying present.  This really struck a chord with me.   I think back about my successful races and my not-so-successful races---one huge component of the successful races was my attitude about the finish line.  During my successful training sessions and races, I wasn’t solely focused on the finish line and about what time I may (or may not be achieving) but rather, about the experience.  For example, the 5k I ran a few weeks ago.  I was keenly aware of my space throughout that race.  Sure it was only a 5k but I’ve had 5k experiences where all I was doing was staring at my watch or getting annoyed by the crowds of people ahead.  With endurance training and racing, staying present is vitally important.  When you stand or float at the starting line of an ironman, you don’t want to be thinking about the marathon, you want to be focused on the first 100 meters of the swim or the first buoy.  One the biggest successes in my racing history was the ironman and throughout that whole race I was constantly focusing on the present moment.  My attitude wasn’t, “this is hard” “why am I not done yet” but rather “this is awesome” and “I AM in fact DOING this race” and “I am loving this…swim…this bike…and this run…”  I remember seeing Mr. Pi on the back portion of the run course, I was running, I was smiling, I was present in the moment soaking it all up.  He pointed out how close I was the finish, I didn’t.  I wasn’t thinking about the finish until probably mile 25 of the marathon.  I spent the whole day in the present moment.

So, my training tip on mental preparation—STAY PRESENT. Don’t know how to do this…well, let’s discuss two ways in which Barb helped us think about staying present.

1.  Focus on the immediate surroundings, create a mantra.  Her start line/swim mantra “first buoy is mine!”  I like it…I plan to use it.  For the bike, she thought of her legs as pistons on a train “chu chu.”  I personally go back to the song that got stuck in my head during my first century ride, “rocket man.”  My legs are my rockets propelling me forward.  For the run, her saying and one I have said myself is “I am a runner.”  Those of us that come to the sport of triathlon from another discipline (in my case swimming) sometimes we don’t think of ourselves as ‘cyclists or runners’ but in fact WE ARE.

2.  Stay positive.  We all have things we are scared of…mass starts, flat tires, heat, hills, etc.  Roll with these things.  Another of Barb’s mantras from the weekend, “I thrive on challenges.”  Say this to yourself as you’re waiting in the pack of a mass start, as you’re riding up a hill that seemingly won’t end.  Stay positive…YOU CAN do this…YOU trained…YOU are there…YOU CAN DO THIS.

Mental preparation takes training.  Just like your swim, bike and run workouts…work out your mind.  Start creating and using your mantras or images in training, then, on race day you’ll have tools in the tool box.