How Mental Triathlon Training Works

Mental Focus for Training and Race Day

Many triathletes consider the swim the toughest part of a triathlon. Are you mentally prepared?
Many triathletes consider the swim the toughest part of a triathlon. Are you mentally prepared?

Imagine for a moment you're a triathlete who's "in the zone." Everything is working flawlessly. Your movements are comfortable and natural, and your body automatically knows what to do without your thinking about it. You're completely familiar with your equipment, and when you have a setback, you handle things quickly and keep going without any break in your pace. Your mind is totally focused, and nothing can distract you, even the scenery, rain, cold, heat or the massive five-man cycle collision you just avoided.

That's the scenario you're training for when you add mental training to your triathlon routine. To be your best, you want to perform at a consistently high level even in the worst conditions. Start by ensuring you're doing everything you can for your physical training so you can minimize the physical distractions that can impact your mental training. This includes being well-conditioned, well-rested, healthy and getting adequate nutrition in your diet.

In their book "The Triathlete's Guide to Mental Training," Jim Taylor and Terri Schneider list the following three things that make up the foundation for your mental training:

  • Your perspective on competition -- How you think and feel about competition and how you approach a competitive situation
  • Your view of yourself as a competitor -- How you perform in training and races
  • Your attitude toward success and failure -- How you define success, what you see as failure and what you understand as the roles that both success and failure play in becoming the best triathlete you can be [source: Taylor and Schneider]

Building on this foundation, bring your triathlon training into perspective. First, accept that in triathlon, as with anything in life, you'll have your ups and downs. It's how you respond to those that make the difference in whether you're mentally prepared.

Second, remember that triathlon shouldn't be so important to you that it changes from a positive to a negative impact on your life. A negative feeling about training may tempt you to dread or avoid it. Eliminate those negative feelings by refocusing on why you love triathlon, whether it's the exercise, socializing, competition or the feeling of accomplishment when you finish the race. Remember that training is a process, and pressing forward with your training schedule will help hone the mental endurance you need on race day.