In the past week, there has been a lot of stress in the triathlete world regarding COVID-19 and the social distancing rules put in place. Pools closed, gyms closed, no group workouts, races cancelled or postponed. This has been a frustrating time for athletes, not to mention the effect it has on the companies putting on these events. While this is something we cannot control, we CAN control how we respond.
That said, this is the PERFECT opportunity to work on your mental game. Take a minute and reflect on all the races you’ve done. Was there a race you started where every last detail went perfectly? Where nothing came as a surprise? I’m going to take a stab and say no. Every race brings with it a new learning experience. Something you can prepare better for at your next event. Whether race day was way hotter than expected, you caught glass in your tire, you forgot your race-day nutrition or maybe there weren’t enough port-o-potty’s so you were forced to pee in your wetsuit at swim start (plenty of athletes do this, don’t be ashamed to admit it).
I’m going to share a story about my first triathlon experience. My first ever race was back in 2007, small event, sprint tri, middle of nowhere, maybe 350 people. I was stoked. Showed up, racked my bike and gear in transition and walked down to the water. First thing I observed looking around, I was the only one not in a wetsuit. This was May, water temp was 65 degrees, and here I was in my little two-piece tri kit. Not even a full shirt, it was a sports bra style top. Mistake #1. Now, for mistake #2, I then proceeded to self-seed myself in the mass swim start near the front of the pack. Big mistake. This resulted in lost goggles and being swam on multiple times. I made it out alive, never more excited to feel land and made my way through transition. Little did I know back then, about the very specific run and bike in/out locations and timing mats in place to catch your time. Mistake #3. After being yelled at, not understanding why and finally making my way out of the correct bike out, I suddenly seemed to realize there was a hill located directly at the beginning of the bike split, right out of transition. Since it’s impossible to hop on your bike and clip in while trying to climb, this resulted in numerous people falling over on their bikes. Fortunately, I had my bike in a high gear and was able to make it up the hill. Fast forward back to transition, I realized once I re-racked my bike that my back tire was flat. The end of the course was incredibly bumpy and somewhat littered with trash. Thankfully, I didn’t realize this on the course; otherwise, I might not have completed my first race because I would not have known how to change a flat, nor did I have the tools with me to do so. Mistake #4.
Things happen. We can either choose to respond negatively and only see the downside in each situation. Or, we can train ourselves to choose to respond positively and see the OPPORTUNITY in each situation. You could say that I failed epically in that triathlon, but I see it as a huge win. I had done my training, completed the race, fell IN LOVE with the sport then and there, learned what NOT to do at my next event and I’ve never looked back.
We work on our physical fitness, so why wouldn’t we work to enhance and improve our mental fitness? There are several components to mental fitness that, if you address, will only improve your experience in triathlon and, quite possibly, how you finish or place in a triathlon. Some of these components include confidence, thought habits, focus, visualization and motivation. Generally speaking, triathletes are highly motivated people. But, how are your thought habits? How do you react when tough situations strike? Do you visualize a strong and successful race? Can you erase self-doubt? Back to my experience, did I make it through? Yes. Did I learn something along the way? Absolutely. Am I a better athlete (and coach) because of it? Hell yes.
So, the pool is closed, it’s the shortest leg anyway. And if you’re really concerned, transfer to a duathlon! Maybe your race was cancelled. Is it only about the race? Or, is it about the journey getting there? Did you train hard? Did you show yourself you can put in the work? Are you a better athlete and person because of it? On all accounts, yes.
Think positive, see the opportunity in every situation and never stop working on your mental game. You will only achieve as high as you believe. ALWAYS AME high and rock that beaming smile.