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March 7, 2011 | Triathlon Training Blog

Tri Smarter

Last week, AASP-certified sport psychology consultant Dr. Alison Rhodius taught us how to set goals and train SMART. This week, we’ll learn how to train SMARTER.

At this time of the year, when most triathletes are getting ready for their first triathlon race, many of us are trying out how to train smarter to race faster or set new goals.

Certainly, training smart plays a huge role in achieving any goal, whether it’s finishing your first triathlon race, setting a PR or hearing Mike Reilly make it official that you are now an Ironman.

But what if training doesn’t go as expected? Will your confidence suffer? What if you get injured or your job puts new demands on you? How will you cope? This is where mental training comes in.

To recap, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Adjustable and Action-based, Realistic and Time-based goals. To take goal-setting to the next level means being even SMARTER.

This is something that sport psychology professionals discuss with professional athletes on a regular basis. Now Rhodius has agreed to share these techniques with you, so you can practice like the Pros.


How do you know that you’ve truly achieved a goal?

Rhodius says as easy as this may sound, sometimes goals can be  based on “feel” or a “personal rating.” To really know how to evaluate goals, the expert uses what’s called “reflective practice.”


The idea behind reflection is to learn more about oneself every day. Top athletes are encouraged to practice reflection during training and competition using the following 6-step method as a guide:


Ask yourself what happened today, but keep to the facts.

Example: I was out on an 80-mile training ride and bonked at mile 50.

2. Thoughts & Feelings

Ask yourself what you were thinking and feeling?

Example: What caused me to bonk? Did I not take in enough calories or may be go out too hard?  

3. Evaluation

Ask yourself what was good about today? Plus, what could have been better?

Example: I felt really strong for the first 40 miles, so I decided to try to keep up with the fast group for the next 40 miles.

4. Analysis

What sense can you make of the situation?

Example: Did I go out too fast or was it that I didn’t eat enough or forgot to eat? Or was my ego telling me to hang on no matter what? Or was it the challenge to ride with one of my fast friends?

What did I learn about myself?

Example: I’ll think about my emotions and pay closer attention to my caloric intake.

5. Conclusion

What else could you have done? Would you change anything?

Example: I could have started out a bit more conservatively or kept better track of my nutrition intake.

6. Action Plan

If the situation arose again, what would you do? What are your goals for the next time?

Example: I’ll try to start out a bit more conservatively and try to make up time in the second half of the ride.

Rhodius says that once you’ve gone through this process a few times, you won’t need to rely on the model. Until then (and even after you’ve learned the steps), you may want to write down the steps and your thoughts by keeping a journal. This will allow you to refer to your notes whenever you need it. Find a system that works for you and it’ll come natural in no time.

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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