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Consistency is one of the hallmarks of great triathletes, whether it’s Paula Newby-Fraser, Mark Allen, Peter Reid, Natascha Badmann, Daniela Ryf, or Jan Frodeno. They have all demonstrated the ability to perform at an incredibly high level day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, and year in and year out. It’s not that other equally talented and hard-working triathletes can’t have great performances. Rather, it’s that they can’t perform as exceptionally on a regular basis.
Given the obvious value of consistency in triathlon, the inevitable question that follows is: How do these triathletes become so consistent? I would argue that competitive consistency is a direct result of consistency in their training and in other important aspects of their preparations and life.
I can’t remember the last day I didn’t train. —Michael Phelps, Olympic swimming champion
There are three areas of triathlete preparation that require consistent effort in order for quality training and competitive performances to result: physical conditioning, technique/tactics, and mental training. The notion of consistent effort in training can be expressed in several ways. First, it involves consistency across every area of training that impacts competitive performance. It’s not uncommon for triathletes to be very consistent in some aspects of their training, most often, those areas that they enjoy most and are best at, but to be less consistent in other areas, generally, those that aren’t as fun or that they struggle with. For example, a triathlete is very consistent in her swim training (because she was a swimmer before transitioning into triathlon), but doesn’t like going into the weight room, so lacks consistency in her strength-training efforts. Mental training is often an area of training that is lacking the consistency necessary to gain its benefits.
Second, you must exhibit consistency of commitment, which means putting in the required time on a regular basis. This consistency is seen in a well-structured training program that ensures you are doing the necessary work to achieve your goals. It is also seen in your showing up on time for training and not leaving until the training session has been completed in full.
Third, consistency in training involves consistency in the focus and intensity that you bring to your efforts. This view of consistency relates to working hard from the start to the finish of training sessions. It also means doing everything that is expected of you as fully and as well as you can (in other words, with the utmost quality).
I believe that there isn’t a distinction between you as a triathlete and you as a person. Whoever you are as a person impacts you as a triathlete. Additionally, when you get in the water, on your bike, or begin a run, you take your “personness” with you. My point here is that there is no line between life as a triathlete and your life away from our sport; both impact your triathlon performances.
This idea is important because it would suggest that for you to be as consistent as you can in your training and competitive efforts, you must begin by living a consistent life. There are four aspects of life that I have found often most in need of consistency in order to support your consistency as a triathlete. First, you must have consistent eating habits. Because we are physical beings, what you eat has a tremendous influence on your athletic life. Your ability to consistently fuel yourself effectively and avoid food that will not optimally prepare you for performance is crucial to consistent training efforts. If you make your triathlon a priority in your life, then a consistently healthy diet that minimizes junk food would be warranted.
Second, your sleep habits play an essential role in the consistency and quality of your training. Extensive research has demonstrated the effect that sleep—or lack thereof—has on you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Despite this clear importance, there is an abundance of evidence that most people, including triathletes, don’t get enough sleep. The reasons for this sleep deprivation include daily stress, too much work, overscheduling, and an excessive absorption in technology and social media. Ensuring a consistently good night’s sleep takes commitment and discipline because there are so many forces pulling you away from getting enough rest. Yet again, if you prioritize triathlon, healthy sleep choices would be the wise road to take.
Third, if you’re a young triathlete, the chances are that school is the most time-consuming activity in your life. Going to school, doing homework, and studying for exams are all physically demanding, mentally taxing, and emotionally draining. And all of these will impact your athletic life. Your ability to manage your school life consistently will pay dividends in terms of lack of stress, ability to focus, and general wellbeing on your triathlon in both your training and competitive efforts. Consistent school habits include your study habits, preparing for exams in a timely manner, completing projects well on time, not having school responsibilities hanging over your head when you are training and especially when you’re competing, and generally keeping up with all of your school responsibilities.
Lastly, your relationships, whether family, friends, teammates, or coaches, will have an obvious effect on your athletic life. Relationships can be affirming, calming, and pleasurable. Or they can be stressful, turbulent, and distracting. The quality and consistency of your relationships can either cause you to feel cared for, safe, comfortable, and supported or insecure, anxious, and vulnerable. It’s not difficult to see how you would feel and perform in your athletic life in these very different relationship scenarios. As with the previous aspects of your non-triathlon life that impact your athletic life, efforts to ensure that your relationships support your training and competitive efforts would be well rewarded.
In my experience, it takes years of consistent work to make big gains in the triathlon, so you have to learn to embrace the process. —Heather Wurtele, six-time Ironman champion
Not surprisingly, given what I do for a living, I believe that having a consistent mind is another essential part of the consistency puzzle. In fact, my column is devoted to creating in you a consistent set of attitudes, mental muscles, and mental tools that will set the stage for consistent training and competitive performances.
Consistent attitudes that will act as the foundation for consistently excellent athletic performance—in both training and races—include ownership, process, challenge, long-term, and risk. You gain consistency in adopting and embracing these attitudes by understanding them, seeing the role they play in your life, and making relevant attitude shifts in a healthy direction. You can further support these attitudes by removing the psychological obstacles (overinvestment, perfectionism, fear of failure, expectations, and negativity) that often prevent healthy attitudes from dominating your mental and emotional life.
Mental muscles that you must consistently train include motivation, confidence, intensity, focus, and mindset. Just like with physical muscles, the only way to develop strong mental muscles and to avoid injuring them is to commit to a consistent mental training program designed to maximally strengthen them.
Mental tools that you must leverage consistently consist of goal-setting, self-talk, breathing, imagery, and routines. Just like an auto mechanic who uses his or her tools to tune and repair cars, the only way for you to develop skill and comfort with the mental tools, and for the mental tools to provide maximum value to you, is to get instruction on their use and then use them a lot. With this approach, you learn how the mental tools work, when to use them, and how to get the most out of them in your training and competitive efforts (I’ll write more on all of these areas in future columns).
The final aspect of consistency that propels and keeps the world’s best triathletes at the top of our sport is consistent preparation. Whether they are preparing themselves physically or mentally, readying their equipment, or prepping with their coaches and teammates, the best triathletes in the world are meticulous and unwavering in every area that can impact their training and competitive performances.
Of particular note is their attention to detail in their training efforts. Just about every triathlete who aspires to their own personal greatness does a pretty good job with preparing themselves for a race. Why? Because they know that being well-prepared is important to their competitive success. But, more often than not, you look at their training preparations and they will appear irregular at best and nonexistent at worst. The best triathletes in the world have well-defined training regimens and routines that ensure total preparation before every training performance. This fastidious approach ensures that they ingrain the very best physical, technical, and mental skills and habits to better prepare them to get the most out of their training efforts with the goal of turning those skills and habits into competitive success.
The Consistency Challenge
Having just shared with you the importance of consistency in all aspects of your life, I now challenge you to establish the consistency that will optimally prepare you to perform your best in both training and races. So, put your life under a microscope and look honestly at where you are consistent and where you need to become more consistent. Then, accept the challenge and make the commitment to make every aspect of your life—both in and away from our sport—so consistent that in your swim, bike, and run, it propels you like a rocket toward to your triathlon goals.
The hardest part of training is doing these workouts day after day after day. In other words: consistency. Doing a hard workout once brings small benefits. But being able to do hard workouts consistently month after month, in short, yields results. —Charisa Wernick, professional triathlete
Do you want to take the next step in training your mind to perform your best in training and on race day? I offer four options for you:
- Read my latest mental training book: Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Triathlon Goals.
- Listen to my Train Your Mind for Athletic Success podcast.
- Take a look at my online mental training courses.
- Schedule a 1:1 session with me.
About Dr. Jim Taylor
Jim Taylor, Ph.D., psychology, is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of endurance sports. Jim has been a consultant to USA Triathlon and works with Olympic, professional, and age-group endurance athletes in triathlon, cycling, running, swimming, and Nordic skiing. A former alpine ski racer who competed internationally, Jim is a 2nd-degree black belt in karate, sub-3-hour marathoner, Ironman, and USAT nationally ranked triathlete. Jim is the author of 17 books, including The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training (with Terri Schneider). Jim is also the host of the Train Your Mind for Athletic Success podcast. To learn more, visit drjimtaylor.com.