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January 18, 2011 | Triathlon Training Blog

The Mental in Triathlon

At this time of the year, most triathletes are busy planning their upcoming racing season. The one thing we can all count on are the unplanned events: A job change, a family event, an injury, missed training days, rain.

That’s where your mental practice comes into play.

Dr. Alison Rhodius, a certified sports psychology consultant in the U.S. specializing in elite individual performance, and a full-time professor at John F. Kennedy University, has graciously agreed to lend her expertise as a regular contributor to this blog.


The Concept of Reflective Practice

With the start of a New Year and a new tri season, many triathletes are eagerly looking into the future when they may want to take a look in the review mirror. Psychologists call this the ‘concept of reflective practice.’

Rhodius says when talking to her elite athletes—which has included working with some of the world's best endurance athletes (track and tri) and members of the U.S. and British archery teams at the Olympic Games in Athens—she likes to end a season or starts a new season with an exercise of posing a series of questions.

To make this exercise relevant, you have to answer with “brutal honesty”—no fudging allowed. Because this is a reflective exercise, you want to find a way to put your answers into memory either by writing them down in a log book, typing them into your computer, your Iphone, or by creating an audio or video tape even.

Answer These Questions for Yourself

 Start by asking yourself what happened?

  • What do I want to remember?
  • What did I do that didn’t go as well as I hoped for or would like to change?
  • What did I do really well?

This doesn’t have to be about a specific race time or a ranking. It can be about your feelings during your training and competition.

Then ask yourself:

  • What did I learn about myself? (Focus on physical and technical aspects).*
  • What did I learn about myself as a person and an athlete?
  • What would I like to change for 2011?
  • Where do I want to go from here?

Purpose of Reflective Exercise

The important thing is to really reflect and be honest with yourself.

You’re giving yourself a record and an opportunity to release yourself from everything that happened last season. This exercise can be truly cathartic and therapeutic, as long as you don’t fudge the truth.

Once you establish what you’ve learned about yourself and what you’d like to change, you can start thinking about your goals for the upcoming season.

If you have time, it’s not a bad idea to start getting into the habit of keeping a “reflective journal.” This can be done on paper, using an audio or video diary, or your computer. Some people are really meticulous about their journals, others are not. You have to find out what works for you and what helps you get mentally tough, so you can cope with the ups and downs of life.

Check back for Alison’s exercises on goal-setting! Even developing mental toughness takes practice.

By Marion Webb
Marion Webb

Marion Webb is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Webb has worked as a longtime award-winning business journalist, covering fitness, small business, health care and biotech issues. A competitive age-group triathlete and two-time ITU Long Distance World Championship qualifier, Webb competes mostly in the Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and (140.6 miles) Ironman distances.

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