Feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Here's how to stay focused and fired up about reaching your goals.
by Susan Kitchen
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 find themselves struggling to maintain their motivation as training starts to feel more routine.
If you’ve ever listened in on a conversation between triathletes, you are likely to hear questions about total training hours, training plans, and power thresholds. We measure everything: Training hours, time spent in specific zones, and weekly distances in each discipline—often with the help of gadgets and online training logs. Our physical training is no doubt a pillar of our preparation.
All things being equal, however, building mental strength alongside fitness is the key to success. According to Dr. Stan Beecham, sports psychologist and author of Elite Minds, what you believe about yourself and your capability is the primary determinant in how well you carry out a task. The mind controls the body, not the other way around.
Next time you’re swimming, riding your bike, or running, focus on reinforcing what you believe to be true about yourself. Train your mind to be confident, use kind words, and know that you're 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, Dr. Beecham emphasizes the 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 this "why" as the foundation you build everything else upon, and needs to be especially 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 30, 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 5 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 goals, and can keep you from fully committing to the goals you do set. Fear is that whisper in your ear saying, "slow down," or "you’re following the wrong training plan," or "you’ll never be a good runner," or something as broad as "how can you call yourself an athlete?"
We all fear that if we set a big, scary goal and shout it out to the world, we might fail to reach that 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.
You might think that some people are just 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 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 eventually must learn, and earn.
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, 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 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 embrace a healthy spirit of competition.
Focus on the process
Triathletes typically define their success by factors such as 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 numerous factors that go into a race-day outcome, such as our fueling and hydration plan, and elements of execution on race day such as pacing, and setting expectations.
One trick here is to keep your mind aligned 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 next discipline, your finish time, or 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? 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? Remember your goals: 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.