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Coaches Blog

Develop Your Mental Fitness

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Emily Harvey and Coach Liesl

by Liesl Begnaud

“No athlete will ever reach his or her goals without a sound mental strategy and commitment to success” Joe Friel

In triathlon, many athletes are tightly focused on their physical training. Typically, we determine an event that we want to work towards, we set specific race goals, we determine the distance we need to train for, and then we set out on a physical training plan. It may include swimming thousands of meters, biking hundreds of miles and running track workouts, tempo runs and long distance runs all in pursuit of that first sprint triathlon or 4th Iron distance and anything in between.

Designing and executing a physical training plan for your race season IS critical. It’s important that you put in the time to improve your physical fitness. However, I would also suggest that training and developing your mental fitness is equally as important to physically training the swim, bike, run, transition, and nutrition!

Mental training includes digging deep for that “Can Do” attitude and believing you can succeed. Key attributes of successful athletes include avoidance of the expression of doubt and being determined, confident and optimistic. These are mental attitudes that can be trained.

Mental toughness characteristics are commitment, belief, and patience. While we can all relate to a workout that went great and a workout that was awful, the same goes with mental training. There are bound to be setbacks and frustrations, but a key component to success is remaining confident that you can keep working to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

Confidence means getting back in the pool when the last workout felt awful and you didn’t hit your time goal. Confidence is finding that inner positive voice that tells you that you can do it, even if you have a not so optimal training session. Build your confidence by focusing on your success! Focus on and remember the workouts that went great, like when you nailed a certain pace on your run or you completed a new mile PR on your bike. Put these positive successes in your “confidence bank” to draw on when you have a not-so-great workout!

Mental training for a determined, confident and optimistic attitude takes effort and it takes time. At the beginning, middle and end of your season, consider taking a mental inventory to gauge your mental fitness.

Here are some suggested questions to ask yourself, reflect on and talk to your coach about: (Taken from Joe Friel, The Triathletes Training Bible, 4th Edition)

  • Why do you do triathlon?

  • Why not do something else instead?

  • Do you have other hobbies or activities in your life besides triathlon?

  • What would you like to achieve in the sport this season? Are you reaching your goals?

  • What is the most important thing you must accomplish to achieve that goal?

  • What stands between you and success this season?

  • How confident are you that you can achieve your goals?

  • What was your biggest goal/dream this season? Did you accomplish it?

  • What obstacles did you overcome to achieve last year’s goals? Or why did you not achieve your goal?

  • If you don’t achieve your goal this season, will you try again in the future?

  • Were there other people who were supportive of your goal last year? If so, who were they?

  • Do you commonly start workouts and races too fast and fade later?

  • How often do you miss workouts and for what reasons?

  • Do you prefer to train with others or alone?

  • Who often do you train with other athletes?

  • How supportive of your triathlon goals are you family and friends?

Answering these questions will help you gain insight and understanding of your own mental state and help you continue to focus on mental training alongside your physical training. If you work with a coach, discuss these questions and they will help you identify some mental areas you can train. Putting in the time to mentally train will pay off at your next race, workout or event. Be patient. Be confident. Go all in and you will succeed.

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