Guest post: The Mental Aspects of Multisport Racing, Part 2

winner medal

By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

In Part 2 of this column, we deal with some further dimensions of the mental aspects of multisport racing. (Read Part 1 here.)

To get the most value out of mind work for multisport racing you have to know why you’re in the sport, which I discussed in a previous column.

Know your pain

The first aspect of mind work is knowing your body. For example, knowing that the pain you feel is from muscle use, not an injury, and knowing that when you finish, or perhaps even when you go on to the next race segment, in a few minutes it will go away. Knowing your body is being able to act on that knowledge and keep going.

Several times in long and ultra-distance events I have experienced a great deal of knee pain on the bike. I could deal with it because I was pretty sure it was just from exertion. I was almost certain it would go away on the run, when I would be using different muscles. And indeed, it did. So it was okay.

In that type of situation, the pain doesn’t worry you. It doesn’t cause apprehension of a future negative event. It just hurts, that’s all. You go with it, and put up with the pain, because you know what finishing means and you have the mental power to do that.

Keep your wits about you

Second, success in triathlon and duathlon depends upon your ability to keep your wits about youduring both training and racing. To stay alert, and out of harm’s way around traffic, natural hazards, and other racers, even when you’re tired, you need to be able to think clearly.

You also need to remember to drink and eat at the required frequencies. In hot weather, drinking fluids on a regular basis before you get thirsty is, of course, vital. (It is often said that if you wait until you get thirsty, it’s too late.) It requires mental discipline to notpass a water stop when you’re feeling good, and not thirsty, and to remember to drink water anyway.

Monitor your pace

You also need to use your mind to hold yourself back from going too fast at the beginning of a race segment. Or, to power all the way through the bike leg because you are a good cyclist, you feel good that day, and you get caught up in some person-on-person competition.

How many times have you heard someone say: “If only I held back a bit on the bike. I had nothing left for the run.” You need mental discipline to control that urge.

Keep putting in the work

The power of the mind in multisport is nowhere more evident than it is in training. Day after day, week after week. Sticking to that schedule. Knowing what you need to do to achieve the results you want. Being able to go out when you’re very sleepy, as well as when you feel full of vim and vigor. Being able to go to the pool at the end of a hard day to put in the yards or the minutes you need for the swim.

As I have said many times since I first started writing about triathlon back in the 1980s: “The hard part of regular exercise is the regular, not the exercise.”

Avoid overtraining

The power of the mind is also evident in the mental discipline you need to not overtrain. Knowing when enough is enough to achieve the results you want. Being aware that overdoing it can be more harmful than underdoing it in terms of potential long-term damage to your body and your racing career.

Even when training is going well, and so is your racing season, you need mental discipline to say to yourself, as you should from time to time, “let’s take it easy this week. I know that my conditioning won’t disappear overnight, and my muscles sure could use some rest.”

Know when to keep fighting and when to stop

In races, the power of the mind comes in knowing when to take a DNF if you have to. Being able to recognize that it’s just too hot, or that you don’t have enough time left in the race to make the time limit. (I have experienced these more than once in my 35 years in the sport.) Just in terms of your health, you must be able to stop before you get heatstroke, hypothermia, or a serious musculoskeletal injury.

Remember, in the scorecard of life, no one was ever declared a failure for not finishing a particular race on a particular day. There’s always another race.

[How do you get it done? Share your mental training tips in the comments below!]

* This column, as recently published (see below) is based in part on an article I wrote in 1992 for my then-regular column, “Triathlon for Everyman,” that appeared in the June issue of Triathlon Today! It was entitled “Some Mental Aspects of Triathloning.”

** A version of this column originally appeared on the USA Triathlon blog, Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series,(No. 49, 2018/01), March 1, 2018, and is used with permission.

2018 marks Dr. Steve Jonas’ 36thseason of multisport racing. He began the season with a total of 255 dus and tris. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and is in the 90’s for duathlon. He has raced up to the Ironman distance, but now at 81, he is sticking to the sprints in both duathlon and triathlon. 

 Steve is a prolific author of books on multi-sport racing. His first (originally published in 1986) was Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®.  The 2nd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) is still in print. In 2012, he published a book exclusively devoted to duathlon: Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It(Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012). All of his books on multi-sport are available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. He is also long-time writer for various multisport periodicals, including the USA Triathlon Blog. He very happily joined Du It For You in 2016.

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Duathlon: How to ace the second run

Duathlon second run

Nothing brings more lead-legged discomfort in duathlon than the dreaded second run.

After five years of duathlon racing, that bike-run transition hasn’t felt any easier. I’ve had second runs where I’ve almost threw up my drink, runs reduced to a relative shuffle and runs where—oh happy day—I ran well and passed several competitors.

With proper training, pacing and fueling, you can improve your run off the bike and cruise to a successful finish.

Master the brick

To run well off the bike you have to practice running off the bike. Incorporate at least one bike-run brick a week into your training. When you’re just starting out, don’t worry about pace. Just run.

Froome run off bike
It’s safe to say Froome didn’t practice his off-the-bike run before stage 12 of Tour de France, 2016.

As you progress, add intensity to your brick. Try a one-hour bike with the last 10 minutes at race pace, followed by a short run with the first five minutes at race pace.

Jason Digman, former head of Dig It Triathlon and Multisport Coaching, recommends what I call the “multi-brick.” After a warmup, perform three sets of one-mile run, 10-minute bike, with no recovery in between. Keep your first multi-brick at race pace plus 15 to 20 seconds. Over the course of four weeks, progress up to race pace.

Play with the distance of your run and bike intervals depending on your goal race’s length. Bonus: you get lots of transition practice!

Du second-run strides

Albert Harrison, a USA Track & Field Level 2 Coachand a USA Triathlon national champion in both the standard and long-course duathlon, recommends a set of short intervals right off the bike. Running fast right away helps your body overcome that jelly-leg feeling and—surprise surprise!—run fast off the bike.

Harrison suggests 20-second strides or 400-meter repeats faster than goal race pace. “Be careful though,” he wrote me via Twitter, “you’re more susceptible to injury while running on tired legs.”

Jesse Bauer, an elite duathlete based in Edmonton, Canada, agrees. Why? Because short, fast efforts promote a high leg cadence off the bike.

Bauer’s favorite second-run speed workouts are 200-meter repeats at faster than goal race pace, or 5x 30-seconds, followed by a 30-second walk/jog recovery, straight into a 1-2K race pace effort.

“Paid off big on the steep hill out of T2 on Friday,” he told me via Twitter, referring to the recent ITU World Multisport Championships in Fyn, Denmark, where he competed in the elite men’s standard duathlon.

If it’s early in your season or you haven’t done much stride work, build intensity gradually to avoid injury. Start with a couple sets of 30-second strides, with a full recovery jog in between.

Focus on form.

Top age-group competitor and multisport coach Suzanne Cordes keeps her focus on good form during the second run—that time when you see many runners hunched over, shuffling along or walking.

During your interval or faster running workouts, focus on how you hinge your hips, how you run tall, how you maintain good form. Think about that powerful stride when you bolt out of T2, she says.

magnet

When you settle into your second-run pace, use the magnet trick suggested by sports psychologist and Your Performing Edge author Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter:

Imagine your competitor has a magnet on her back. Let it pull you toward her. If there’s no one in eyesight, put the magnet on a tree or the top of a hill.

Don’t start out too fast.

Repeat: don’t start out too fast. When you’re well-rested and well-trained, it’s so easy to fly through the first run as if it’s a standalone race. Don’t. You’ll pay for it in the second run, if not on the bike.

The goal is to hit even splits—or as close to even as possible—on your first and second run. I accomplished my best races when I ran the second run pretty darn close to my first.

Endurance coach Eric Schwartz suggests the following: if your race involves two 5Ks, plan to run them about 30 to 60 seconds slower than your standalone 5K time. The faster your race pace, the less time you should add.

Digman suggests something similar. Add the distance of your run legs together and pace according to a run distance one step longer. For example, if your duathlon involves 10K of running, race according to your 10-mile race pace.

Your competitors may run away from you in the first run, but with smart pacing and training, you’ll pass them back in the end. Remember, Digman writes, “they don’t give away the medals for the first athlete into T1.”

What are your second run training tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Guest Post: Thoughts on the mental aspects of multisport racing, Part 1

winner medal

By Steven Jonas, M.D., M.P.H.

Renowned American inventor Thomas Edison supposedly said: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.”

Taking “inspiration” to mean mental work, back in 1992 when I wrote the original version of this column (see my note below at the end), I thought the ratio in triathlon racing was almost the opposite (even on a very hot day) —99 percent mental work, 1 percent perspiration.

I recall reading an article in an issue of Triathlete magazine back then in which one of the original “Fabulous Four,” Mark Allen, described winning the Hawaii IRONMAN as a “mental exercise in pain management.” (The other members of the group were Dave Scott, Scott Molina, and Scott Tinley. All four are members of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.)

Back then I noted that except for those folks at the front of the pack who are technical riders or fast swimmers, there is little physical or athletic skill involved in the primary triathlon sports: swimming, cycling and running. Left, right, left, right is the name of the game. And while we all perspire profusely on a hot day, it is not the perspiration per se that gets us through the race.

It’s our minds.

Today, while I think that’s still true for the most part, there is much more emphasis on technique in all three sports than there was back then.

For myself, as a Golden Oldie (age 81), who, as I describe myself, started out slow 35 years ago and has been getting slower ever since, it’s never been much about technique. I needed a lot of discipline and, indeed, technique in both teaching and writing in my work as an academic. I also needed it in my other sport, downhill skiing, in which I eventually became good enough to become a certified ski instructor.

In order to teach proper technique, essential to good (and safe) skiing, I had to be able to do it myself. But for our sport it’s always been to do what I do in all three sports to a) get through the course and b) not get injured, having learned just enough technique in all three sports to do just that.

Nevertheless, what is it that enables triathletes to finish, especially in the long races (whatever is a long race for you—sprint-, Olympic-, long- or ultra-distance)? Technique, for sure, to help you go as fast as you want to go, bearing in mind that you have to be able to finish the race.

But primarily, in my view, it is mental discipline, dealing with both technique and speed. It is the ability to focus, to concentrate. As well as staying with your technique, it is the ability to keep your eyes on the prize (which for most of us is finishing at or around our time objective).

It is the ability, as Mark Allen put it, to put up with the pain, to manage it, even adjust your speed to it: “I can take the pain that speeding up will bring with it.” Or, conversely, “It’s okay, I can take a minute-a-mile less on the run. It’s going to hurt a lot less and that makes slowing down a bit worth it.”

For me, much more important from the mental standpoint is knowing why you’re in the sport. Multisport racing, over time, is tough, more for the training than for the racing. To stay with it for any considerable period of time, you have to be doing it for yourself, for how you feel doing it, for how it makes you feel about yourself, for how it makes you look, to yourself, not to someone else.

If it makes you feel good, and feel good about yourself, you are going to stay with it, as tough as it is, physically, mentally and time-wise, over the long haul. If not, then you will not stay with it. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Hardly. But to stay with it, you definitely have to know why, and what are the goods, for yourself, that you are getting from the sport.

Next time, we’ll deal with some of the specifics of the mental aspects of the sport and the power of the mind.

* This column, as recently published (see below) is based in part on an article I wrote in 1992 for my then-regular column, “Triathlon for Everyman,” that appeared in the June issue of Triathlon Today!It was entitled “Some Mental Aspects of Triathloning.”

** A version of this column originally appeared on the USA Triathlon blog, Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series,(No. 49, 2018/01), Jan. 29, 2018, and is used with permission.

2018 marks Dr. Steve Jonas’ 36thseason of multisport racing. He began the season with a total of 255 du’s and tri’s. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and is in the 90’s for duathlon. He has raced up to the Ironman distance, but now at 81, he is sticking to the sprints in both duathlon and triathlon.  Steve is a prolific author of books on multi-sport racing. His first (originally published in 1986) was Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®.  The 2nd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) is still in print. In 2012, he published a book exclusively devoted to duathlon: Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It(Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012). All of his books on multi-sport are available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. He is also long-time writer for various multisport periodicals, including the USA Triathlon Blog. He very happily joined Du It For You in 2016.