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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