For the spectator, a triathlon consists of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of incredibly fit athletes swimming, cycling and running in a competition that tests strength and endurance. Well-toned, well-tanned arms and legs move together, often in a pack and sometimes dangerously close to colliding. After a couple of hours, sometimes more, the top triathletes cross the finish line, and the race is over.
For triathletes, though, the race is just one of many brief but long-anticipated events for which they have been preparing for months, if not years. Physical training in each of the three legs of the triathlon is essential. Additionally, triathletes must practice their skills in transitioning from one leg to the next.
After all this training, many top triathletes are in similar physical shape when they arrive at the starting line. What sets them apart on race day, though, is not the physical race, but the mental race. Some of the mental aspects of triathlon, as in many endurance sports, are the ability to focus on the goal, ignore pain, keep frustration and anxiety in check, and avoid distractions.
Most triathletes claim the mental side of the sport has the greatest impact on how they perform. Despite this claim, these same athletes often report spending little or no training time on mental preparation. Triathlon coach Joe Friel says, "The mental aspect is an area that many athletes can improve on. There are many aspects of sport psychology, the most important of which are confidence, motivation, concentration, and relaxation" [source: Taylor and Schneider].
This article will describe the mental preparations you can make as a triathlete that can carry you through both training and race day. There are also some useful mental training tips you can keep in mind while your mind is in the race.