How Mental Triathlon Training Works

Mental Triathlon Training Tips

Triathlon Web sites have lots of great tips for mentally preparing for a triathlon. The following are some of the best we've found:

Set realistic-but-scary goals -- You should know you can accomplish the goal you set, but it should also require your fullest physical and mental focus to accomplish it. For example, it may be unrealistic to expect a 4-minute-mile (1.6 kilometer) pace in the last leg of your triathlon, but it may be realistic to shave off 10 seconds per mile by pacing yourself better. That's a lot of time to trim, but if it's a trouble area for you, it may be the mental push you need during training [source:].

Use "chunking" to master the mental race mile-by-mile -- Chunking, or performance segmenting, is the art of breaking a larger task up in your mind and focusing on it in smaller tasks. For example, instead of thinking of the whole race, or the entire swimming leg, think of the race from the start to the first buoy. Then, later, focus on the race from the last buoy to the shore. These manageable chunks can keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the larger race and help you develop your pacing strategy [source: Jacobson].

Track your progress -- If you're going to put in the time to train, stay aware of your progress by tracking. There are a number of devices you can use to track your training progress, including heart rate monitors, diet and nutrition software, pace meters and cycling computers. Select the devices you want to use for tracking, and keep a journal of what they report for each workout.

Have confidence in what you've accomplished so far -- When you first get started training for a new event, and even just a few weeks into that training, the goal you need to reach before the event may seem a long distance ahead. Don't lose sight of where you've come from to get to that point, though, whether it's reducing your running time by 10 seconds per mile, or just getting from your couch to the sidewalk [source: Newsome].

Stay focused on your goal, not on others' performances -- The only goal that should matter to you, both before and during the race, is your own. You know the pace you need to keep to reach your goals. For example, view a competitor passing you as a possible extra motivation to speed up, but don't think of it as "falling behind" [source: Pate].

Redefine "success" -- Think of success not as winning the race or qualifying for another event. Think of it as performing to the best of your ability and enjoying the experience [source: Taylor and Schneider].

Take a playful approach -- To avoid taking your training too seriously, which can result in a negative feeling toward it, turn it into something positive and playful. Make your training your "play time" so it helps reduce your stress instead of creating it [source: Evans].

Related Articles


  • "You Failed? Great Job!" Beginner Triathlete, LLC. Sept. 3, 2005. (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Delcour, Betsy. "Xtri Chats with Mark Allen Online Athlete, Kelly Lear-Kaul." July 20, 2010. (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Evans, Marc. "Cognitive: Playing at Triathlon." Sept. 2, 2010. (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Jacobson, Troy. "Mental Skill Strategy -- Chunking." USA Triathlon. United States Olympic Committee. 2009. (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Newsome, Paul S. "Mental Focus: Don't Lose Your Head!" The Team Core. 2008. (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Pate, Michael. "Are You a Quitter When the Going Gets Tough?" When Big Boys Tri. Beginner Triathlete, LLC. 2003. (Sept. 2, 2010)
  • Pate, Michael. "When Big Boys Tri." May 2003. (Sept. 6, 2010)
  • Russ, Matt. "Mental Skills -- A Winner's Mentality." Tri-Newbies Online. 2010. (Sept. 1, 2010)
  • Taylor, Jim and Schneider, Terri. "The Triathlete's Guide to Mental Training." VeloPress. Boulder, Colo. 2005.