Guest blog from Fit Think Coaching who offer the complete mental preparation experience for endurance athletes

You’ve spent a lot of time preparing for your triathlon with your physical training so don’t neglect your mental preparation. We’re delighted to have a guest blog from Elanor Cormack and Vicky Begg on this very subject with some great tips for triathlon race day.

Triathlon Prep – Get Ready Psychologically

One of the only things that is inevitable in your training and triathlon is that you will face setbacks along the way. From twisted ankles and muscle cramps to punctures or hitting a motivational low, the challenges can seem insurmountable in the moment. Here we explore three key elements from sport psychology that you can use to overcome these challenges.

Regardless of your experience and level, completing a triathlon is a challenging endeavour that pushes your physical capabilities. However, any experienced triathlete will tell you that the mental game is just as critical, if not more so. Once fatigue sets in, the mind can quickly become a triathlete’s biggest obstacle. Negative thoughts, self-doubt, and lack of motivation act like invisible anchors, dragging you down just when you need that reserve of determination most. Having coping strategies prepared ahead of time makes it easier to avoid getting derailed by the challenges that inevitably arise.

Mary Donaldson, Vicky Begg and Nicola Dawson at the Team Relay at Aberfeldy Triathlon 2023, picture credit: Vicky Begg

Stage 1: Practice Failure

While it may seem counter-intuitive, one of the most important practices is intentionally experiencing and overcoming failure. Just like physical practice, you need to learn how to fail in training environments so you can rebound from setbacks during actual events. Consider what the likely setbacks are and create scenarios to practice them (obviously within safety limits). Can you quickly repair your bike? What if you run out of water? Practice scenarios give you a chance to implement recovery routines and refocus to overcome that failure before ramping the intensity back up. Embracing failure as an essential training methodology better ingrains the abilities to stay composed, quickly reset, and optimally respond amidst adversity. It builds confidence that you have proven skills for bouncing back from setbacks when it really counts.

Stage 2: Being Rational

One of the frequent stumbling blocks that athletes face is having irrational thinking patterns. These are rigid, extreme, and illogical. For example, “I must finish this training session”, “If I don’t win then I am a failure”. Psychologist Albert Ellis proposed that it’s not events or situations that directly cause emotional disturbance, but rather our irrational beliefs about those events. By learning to identify and dispute irrational beliefs, we can replace them with more rational beliefs that lead to healthier emotions and behaviours. In sport, this gives us more flexible beliefs that allow us to respond better to dynamic situations and unexpected events. Examples of more rational thoughts would be “I prefer calm waters, but I can cope if it’s choppy” or “It is important for my progress that I keep training, but I may not always be able to finish each session”.

Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon 2023, picture credit: Vicky Begg

Stage 3: Taking Responsibility

A critical part of maximising your potential in any sport is developing an accurate and objective understanding of your own unique competencies. This involves taking an honest inventory of your current strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities. Knowing precisely what your strengths are allows you to capitalise on them. And having a clear picture of your limitations enables targeted work to improve them or adjust technique to compensate. This competency analysis requires humility and the ability to observe yourself with a critical yet motivating mindset. With an honest and adaptable understanding of your own athletic competencies, you can chart the optimal path for creating your personal brand of excellence. Paying particular attention to your levels of competence, control, and social connectedness will also build your pillars of self-confidence. Bringing it all together to give you a solid foundation for going into your race, whatever your performance goal.

The world’s most accomplished athletes have not only optimised their physical capabilities but have mastered the psychological skills to remain focused, confident, and motivated throughout. Regardless of your level you can learn from them. Incorporating sport psychology is an essential part of a triathlete’s training regimen. Developing mental fortitude provides a powerful edge when you find yourself amid a low point on race day. Having the right mindset allows you to fully embrace and overcome the challenges, re-focus on the rewards of the experience, and cross that finish line with a huge smile.

FitThink is Dr Elanor Cormack and Vicky Begg and provides sport psychology, counselling, and coaching to event participants and triathletes. For more details, visit https://www.cormackpsychology.com/fit-think 

Taking time to think about thinking is the first step to mental resilience!

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