For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Master the mental game when anxiety hits.
Tight muscles, choppy breathing, negative self-talk—these are just some ways anxiety manifests in triathletes. Though a small case of nerves can be useful (fear can be a powerful motivator!), too much is a recipe for disaster.
Dr. Jim Taylor, author of Triathletes’ Guide to Mental Training, says anxiety affects more than emotions—frequently, anxious athletes see physical hindrances in performance, such as a shortened stride while running or “spinning squares” on the bike. As such, it’s important to learn to reduce anxiety to increase performance.
“Optimal sports performance occurs in the present moment with a positive mindset,” says Karen Quigley of True Form Coaching. “Since it’s inevitable that anxiety will happen at some point, when you are prepared for how to handle it, it won’t have to knock you off your game.”
Panic button: A bad training day
“It’s all about perspective,” Taylor says. “Never judge your overall fitness based on yesterday’s training. Rather than bumming out about a bad day, use it as a sign you may need to have a rest day.”
Panic button: The dreaded descent
Progressive muscle relaxation while on the bike is an excellent way to learn to relax and enjoy the downhills, says Quigley. When you notice muscle tension in your body while riding, tense up that spot even more to highlight the pattern of tension in your body. As you gradually release the tension, pay attention to how good relaxation can feel!
Panic button: Pre-race second thoughts
If your pulse is racing while you’re setting up in transition, don’t forget to breathe. “Research shows that slow, deep breathing is physiologically calming,” Quigley says. Inhale for a slow count of seven, hold your breath for a second, then exhale for seven more seconds. Repeat as needed.
Panic button: The chaotic swim start
No doubt, the swim start can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences for triathletes. For damage control: “Realize that races are rarely won out of the water. Stop and tread water. Take some deep breaths, and get your bearing before finding open water.”
Panic button: A mid-race flat
Changing a flat tire is a lot easier with a steady hand, so calm down. “Accept that flats happen,” Taylor says. “Realize that this isn’t the Olympics, so 5–10 minutes is disappointing but not world ending. Hopefully, you’ll have practiced changing a tire. Take your time and go step by step.”