A Tactical Edge [Not Physical]
At a recent Iron Man event held at Lake Placid in the U.S. a last minute announcement was made that wet suits would not be allowed for athletes competing for a Kona slot. Those with good mental fitness heard the announcement and were prepared to deal with whatever came their way. Those not as mentally tough had no other choice then to panic – thereby losing any tactical edge they might have had. Mental fitness plays a key role in the training of any athlete and is often the deciding factor if you win or lose.
Task Relevance = Eyes on the Prize
When triathletes are performing with the benefit of mental strength and toughness they are able to perform each task with a specificity and single-mindedness which is, in essence, basic and simple: Their eyes are on the prize and the system to achieve it. Nothing will distract them from their objective and that automatic desire to continue to swim their defined strokes, pedal their bikes at a predetermined speed or climb the next hill without distraction.
Just like the mentally fit athletes were able to hit the cold water, swim slower and succeed, the athlete with the right mindset does not allow themselves to get distracted because they are focused on task-relevant items, not tasks such as worrying as someone passes them – it’s all part of the bigger plan. Being focused on task-relevant items means they concentrate on their ability to complete the task. This enhances their physical performance as it becomes their one and only focus and reduces the impact of emotional fogginess.
Over and Under Arousal
Arousal of an athlete also plays an important role in their mental fitness. When an athlete is over aroused or stimulated they will focus on irrelevant tasks which are going to make them deviate off task and under-perform. However if an athlete is under aroused or under stimulated they will not be able to perform to the highest of their abilities. Therefore an important aspect of mental toughness is knowing where your happy medium is, consistency and continuity when it comes to arousal and stimulation. You will be ready at the start of the competition with the right emotional energy and mindset to succeed.
Compartmentalise your Competition
Another key strategy is compartmentalisation of the event. This allows you to tackle bite size chunks of the competition stages, as well as initiate more opportunities to reward yourself within the performance, creating momentum and further motivation.
Mental Fitness Tools
Some of the tools that work for triathletes include relevant and specific mental imagery, learning to manage thoughts so you can become more focused on task relevant items and trigger words associated with positive moments in their performance. Boston Marathon champ Wesley Korir credits his 2012 win to singing, as we are mentally wired to seek out and follow patterns.
He told letsrun.com: “I started in the beginning and just kept doing it, especially when I was in pain. It’s a mental thing.”
From the mouths of champions: it’s a mental thing.
Image credit: Hammer Nutrition