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3 Easy Ways to Raise Your Mental Game

Three 100 percent legal, injury-free ways to become a better triathlete.

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Three 100 percent legal, injury-free ways to raise your game

1. Practice being in the present

“When your mindset is locked in the present, you’re free of the fear of failure and free of doubt,” explains K.C. Wilder, sports psychologist for Sprinter’s Edge and founder of Elite Mental Edge based in Doylestown, Penn. That’s the mindset that lets you execute your race with power and skill.

The workout: Every time you find your mind wandering (usually to the past or future), practice bringing it back to the present by focusing on your breath or on what’s going on in your body at that moment. Not only do you get better at returning to the fear-free current moment, but you also prove to yourself that you can have control over your mind, even when it starts tearing off without you like a startled horse.

Figure out some “performance cues,” says Wilder. These are the thoughts or feelings that help you better the skill you’re doing. On the run, it might be something like “fast feet,” “push off with your toes” or “relax your hands.”

When you notice fears and doubts creeping up on you, practice what Wilder dubs the three R’s:

Recognize that you were distracted.

Regroup, and tell yourself to get back on task.

Refocus on your performance cues.

For even more mental power, augment this with five or 10 minutes a day of mindfulness training or meditation (there are many great guided meditation apps to help you out, like Headspace and 10% Happier). You’re never going to be distraction-free. But you don’t have to be, once you’ve built the skill of getting back on track fast.

2. Let it get ugly sometimes

Want to know you can handle the tough stuff? Then don’t avoid it in training.

The workout: Do the sixth hill repeat you don’t think you can do. Go for some workouts you hate. When things feel hard, you can channel that past victory of getting through something really grueling, says Melinda Houston, Ph.D., sport psychology consultant and assistant professor in the department of Kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Doesn’t work for you? Try a different approach: “Tell yourself it’s an opportunity to be mentally stronger than you’ve ever been before,” Wilder says. “Or find a positive that could be as simple as ‘I have grit.’”

3. Put pen to paper

Triathlon isn’t just about swimming, biking and running. It’s about keeping a race together when you got two flat tires. Or when you got kicked in the swim. Or tripped on the timing mat, or whatever you’re worried about.

The workout: Write out your contingency plan. What gives you a feeling of control in a race, Houston says, isn’t brushing off those thoughts. It’s knowing what worries you and writing out a script for what you’ll do if those things happen. If what you’re concerned about doesn’t come up on race day, great, she says, “but when it does, it doesn’t matter, because you already know what you’re going to do.”