Mental strength

I normally ignore blogs about mental strength for athletes. I have a good mental outlook, I tell myself, I am a positive person, my life is great and I’m really happy so I don’t need to learn how to think. No mental training will improve my times.

Well, this may have been true, and it may still be true in the rest of my life. I AM (generally) a ridiculously positive person, and in most areas of my life, especially work, I am able to focus on what I do well, learn from my mistakes, and approach it all with a positive attitude which means I get good appraisals, and more importantly, enjoy my days.

But. In the last few days I have begun to think about my attitude towards triathlon. This is a new thing, in the last month or so. Basically since the combination of hot muggy weather and an injured hip decimated my running skills (see, there I go already). Here are a selection of my current thoughts:
I can’t run. I’m so slow, I’m embarrassingly slow, and I’m not enjoying it – why am I not enjoying it anymore? Every step feels really heavy and my hip just starts to hurt. I can’t even do a slow treadmill run. I’m getting better at cycling but I’m still so slow. Thirty minutes is a completely unrealistic swim goal, stupid to think I can swim that fast. I don’t have the mental toughness to make myself do something hard.

The only part of that I should listen to is the last sentence. Last week a post by RUnladylike popped up in my reader. I skim-read it and ignored it…. but something stuck in my mind as I came back to it this week and devoured all the links. One post in particular stuck in mind with a quote that gave me that feeling – you know when you realise you’ve always known something, you just didn’t realise it?  “The one thing that you have absolute control over is your own thoughts”.

And then, while thinking how true and great that was, and reading the rest of the post, my mindset was still stuck in the negative. For example:

trust in your training: I can’t because my training hasn’t been good enough!

I need to snap out of this mindset. Thinking I can’t, and thinking I am going to be slow, means that I won’t be able to, and that I will be slow. I took a few good tips from that Runladylike article that I am going to keep thinking about…..

1. On race day, concentrate on performance goals (that you can control) rather than outcome goals (like time, or overall place).

2. Be aware of your thoughts. What is making you anxious? Do you have to see it that way? Is it worth worrying about? This is linked to a point in another of Runladylike’s blogs – get over the fear of failure. What am I afraid of about this triathlon? Do I really think I won’t finish it? No I don’t, I have full belief in myself that I can finish an Olympic distance tri. So what am I afraid of? Of walking? Of running slowly? Only my mind will make me stop and walk…..

3. Which leads me to the next quote: “my mind controls my body.” I love this and have really taken it to heart. It is short and simple and easy to remember – plus so true but, as I said above, something that I hadn’t fully realised. Leading on from this is “I am in control of my own thinking” and “I am fully capable of achieving the goals I set for myself. They are within my control” Along with mantras about the power of the mind, comes a suggestion to be aware of your thoughts. Notice the negative thoughts and immediately stop yourself. Replace with a positive thought. Remember, my mind controls my body.

4. Visualisation – now I don’t find it particularly useful to visualise myself being successful in the race. I do this quite a lot generally in life and I haven’t found that it’s really changed my mindset, mainly because I can’t focus on the visualisations for long enough. However, one thing that was suggested that I really liked was to hold onto the mental image of a time when you were running strong and feeling happy. For me, that’s running along the top of Richmond Park with the wind at my back and a ginormous smile on my face. Or racing around Brockwell Park to my fastest ever 5k. If I keep thinking about how good those runs felt, how much I enjoyed them, then hopefully I can get over my “can’t do” attitude to running.

5. And finally, for race day – concentrate on the mile you’re in – don’t think about all that is left to come but instead the small, current moments. A mantra for this is I control the step in front of me”.

I am going to be using all of these in the next two days (thanks Jesica!)! I only wish I’d come across this sooner, and no longer am I going to ignore the posts on mental fitness, no longer will I think that’s not for me. I’ve been brought back down to earth with a mental bump and now I need all the help I can get! Does anyone else have any more advice? Or any ideas as to performance goals?! As I can’t seem to get myself off the “I must swim in this time…. I must cycle at this speed….” mindset!

“Every day in some way I am better, wiser, more adaptable, more focussed, more in control

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4 comments

  1. A book about marathon training called “The non-runner’s marathon trainer” has a great tip to start to stop the negative voice in your head. When this negative voice creeps in saying things like “you’re not fast enough”, simply add “but it doesn’t matter”. This takes the power out of the “can’t do” thoughts and sets you up to be more positive. Try it!

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