I have raced in a dozen races, so far in my triathlon career. In each race there are always little issues that arise such as bike problems, nutrition problems, or preparation problems. The biggest hurdle however in each race is being mentally prepared to push myself beyond my known limits. This is challenge in all sports, but in triathlon it comes into play quite frequently. The mental games you play out on the course are both frightening and glorious. My mind gets in arguments with itself over how hard to push myself in each discipline to be able to save enough for the run. This is an area that I must improve in so as to be better in each race.
How do you develop the mental strategy to win in the race. You have to begin in training. You must train at a high level and try to achieve the point of true pain in your training so when that time comes in the race you can push past it. As in anything, practice makes perfect. The best way to measure your mental toughness is to push your body past its limits. You need some measurements like pace, heart rate, power, or length of time to surpass. If you can set up the scenario by which you are trying to race your best in training then it will be natural when it is in a race.
What are the mental hurdles to cross over? One of the main hurdles to cross over has to deal with your ability to control your breathing. If you can control your breathing, you can control your whole body. You need a system by which to breathe naturally while placing your body under stress. You must be able to control the number and depth of breathing while in intense times of intervals in swimming, running, or biking. Start with some drills that put your body in maximum stress and try to control your breathing. Trust me, you will feel more like vomiting then breathing, but it will get better.
The second area of the mental toughness you need for triathlon is your tolerance for pain? This is going to hurt. You must be able to push your bodies muscles and lungs to the point of pain before you will see results. In the race you have to know you can continue on even if you hit what we might call the red line of your endurance. You have to hurt to truly achieve. This is not in the area of injuries but certainly in the area of your muscles and lung capacity. Remember back to Craig Alexander’s win, he had to hurt! In your training you need to push your body to its maximum pain threshold and then continue on past that. You will prove to yourself and to your mind that you can race even in pain.
Lastly, you will need the mental toughness to push through the wall. I had always heard of the wall in marathon running. Your body begins to say to you that it cannot go further then you have already pushed it. You are battling mentally with yourself over going on and you find yourself at a wall. Can you push it down? In triathlon you have the same wall. At some point in your race you will hit the wall. Can you mentally overcome the pain and struggle to push down the wall. Your mind will be screaming for you to stop because it is too hot or because your body is hurting, but this is a mental hurdle you must cross over. I think you find this mental wall in your training in endurance workouts. When you push your body past its known limits on the amount of time you are putting out a strong effort. Can you continue to push harder and harder and push down the wall? For you to be the triathlete you want to be and for me to be the triathlete I want to be, we must push through the wall in our training so we will do it in our races.