Beginner’s Luck: The Trouble with Mental Training

The secret sauce to racing successfully sometimes means humbling yourself and your expectations.

Photo: Wagner Araujo

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The secret sauce to racing successfully sometimes means humbling yourself and your expectations.

When I was growing up the power of mental training, focus, and visualization was not discussed as much as it is today. When I was competitive in weightlifting, I did some mental prep—but honestly, I prep more for my daily CrossFit workouts than I ever did for a large competition back then.

Countless books, podcasts, and articles are out there: focusing on great things we can accomplish if we are brave in our thoughts, badass in our resolve, powerful in our envisionment of race day, and strong in our belief system that we will finish what we set out to do. I agree 100% on all of these points.


Sometimes on race day, I think we can mental ourselves straight into terror, panic, and expectations so large—that we don’t know how to recover when things perhaps don’t go as planned.

Ironman Louisville turned out to be my “best” Ironman race for a few reasons—it wasn’t my fastest, but it was my “easiest” and my most joyful. I had finished Ironman Lake Placid almost 12 weeks earlier, and I had huge expectations for a sub-14:30 race for myself there. Things went wrong, and I wasn’t even close. The expectations for what I “could have” accomplished really sank into my soul that day, and it was hard to recover from—and readjust on the fly. I had spent so much time preparing for the hard work and the victory by “believing”—that I failed to have a reality check with myself as well. I got through the race, but not without a bit of a broken heart.

Fast-forward to Ironman Louisville—where I was completely undertrained due to a car accident and bike crash—I had absolutely zero expectations of anything, let alone time goals or a finish.  The race was incredible for me because I envisioned just an absolute tough day with pain, suffering, and chasing a time clock. I had no expectations of how fast I could move my legs or what I could ride. I turned off my Garmin around mile 55 when I saw how slow I was actually going.

Being brave, believing in ourselves and expecting huge goals are absolutely part of triathlon—don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, envisioning what might go wrong and how we will overcome those obstacles on the fly—is a greater skill to master for race day, particularly ones where we are chasing a time clock. Don’t dwell on the terrible that might happen—that’s not what I mean. Rather, simply understand that expectations are often the greatest failings we can place on ourselves in racing. Going into a race with hope, mental resolve, and no real expectations is a fun way to race. Working with a relentless, yet humble, spirit—that’s the secret sauce that supports our brave hearts—and all that training.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. You can download a free triathlon race day checklist here. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at She has two books coming out in 2019.

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