Whether the goal is to finish a first event, break a time goal or win the thing, a race isn’t truly satisfying unless we come face-to-face with the inner weakness that tries to sway us toward giving less than the body is capable of or throwing in the towel altogether. Confronting this voice and trouncing it can be the most satisfying feeling of personal victory that comes in the sport.
The edge comes when the risk is compelling enough to make it all count. You know you’ve taken on a true challenge when halfway through the race, the physical discomfort forces you to ask, “Why am I doing this to myself?” This is the beginning of what can be a gloomy spiral downward.
To help fortify your mental game for these private battles that await—especially in races with exceptional length, heat, humidity, wind, hills or all of the above—we asked two sports psychologists what tools and techniques every triathlete should employ.
K.C. Wilder has a doctorate in sports psychology and was an all-American cyclist while at the University of Virginia. Wilder continues to race on a Cat-1 level in her home state of Pennsylvania. She currently works with athletes in both individual and group sessions with a special emphasis on addressing anxiety and stress issues.
In addition to racing off-road triathlon professionally and being a member of Team LunaChix, Danelle Kabush has a doctorate in sports psychology and works with winter sport athletes in her hometown of Calgary. Kabush draws from lab work that focused on the subject of motivation conducted during her doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa.
Make the commitment. In beginning to work with an athlete, Wilder’s initial consultations involve a meeting where goals are set. “We set short-term goals and long-term goals,” Wilder says. In the discussion, she helps the athlete distinguish between what she calls process goals versus outcome goals—the former concentrating on the weekly training output and the latter on what the athlete hopes to come away with at the end of the program. “For example, the outcome might be that at the finish they improve their PR at a certain race distance by a certain amount.” Wilder has the athlete write this down on an index card, which goes into a safe in her office. “You can do the same at home with a shoe box. The idea is to commit to the goal and put it away; allay any doubts that might creep into the mind and persuade you to alter the goal.” Then, Wilder says, with the decision on the outcome said and done, you will be more apt to simply pour all of your mental energy into training toward your goal and less tempted to alter the plan due to fear.