The mind is an incredibly complicated thing, and it is largely responsible for your race day performance and experience. Luckily, identifying one very simple characteristic can help you focus your thoughts to your advantage. Here it is: the mind is always in the present and is continually seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.
So how do you put that realization to use? Focus on pleasure, not pain. Mantras like “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” never work in the moment because they focus on the pain. You expect that thought will help because at all other times (before or after the race) you’re thinking about seeking the pleasure from the pride of a solid result, but in the moment your mind just wants to avoid the pain.
Instead, let’s explore ways to focus on pleasure.
2. Smile. I think this is the most powerful one. Put a smile on your face, even if it’s a fake one. I guarantee that after a moment it won’t be a fake one anymore. Smile, and then focus on the happy emotions that follow suit. It’s amazing how transforming this can be to your mood. It can easily bring you to overwhelming happiness, especially toward the end of a well-executed race.
3. Get excited. This one is very similar to the previous, but works best with crowd support. Even if you feel miserable, you can change that around by forcing signs of excitement (cheers, waves, fist pumps, whatever). Acting excited will make you feel better all on its own, but on top of that it rallies up the crowd, which will multiply your own excitement.
Remember you enjoy the sport, and appreciate being in the moment. Force a smile, and you will be happy. Force signs of excitement, and you will be excited. Simple yet very effective.
While it’s great to have these happy thoughts, eventually discomfort is inevitable when pushing yourself in a race. Are there additional ways to handle this? Yes. With some focus you can reroute your mind to think of the discomfort as pleasure. Focus on positive aspects of the pain, rather than the pain itself. Feel and focus on your fitness. Feel the power your legs are producing on the bike. Feel the strength and swift turnover of your stride. Think about how far your fitness has progressed. All of a sudden, the discomfort becomes sidelined to the pleasure that you are getting in that very moment from the pride you have for your performance, again, in that specific moment.
Here are a few other mental considerations. Remember the mind works in the present; therefore, segment your race into many small sections, just a few minutes at a time. Focusing on the whole thing is overwhelming. Another thing is to expect the race to not go perfectly, and handle whatever situation arises as calmly and rationally as possible. One (or several) bad things do NOT mean you aren’t going to have an amazing race. Regroup, and go from there.
Well there you go, a handful of tools to keep your mind in a good place throughout your race. Now just don’t forget the rest of your race plan. Eat, hydrate, and pace appropriately, etc, etc, etc.
Race smart, race happy!
Matt Shanks is a first-year pro triathlete with long-course specialty. Beach2Battleship wrapped up his season with a 4th place finish and PR of 8:43:54. At 25 years old and with 10 years of triathlon experience, he is one of the youngest racing at this level. He has a Bachelor’s degree in both Athletic Training and Physics, as well as a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. He has plans to pursue his triathlon career while working as a civilian engineer for the Navy. USAT Level 1 Coach is also under his credentials. Matt is on team Ignite Endurance, and he is sponsored by PowerTap, GU Energy, and XX2i Optics.
*If you enjoyed this article, say thanks to Matt by following him on Twitter: @Matt__Shanks