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Train Your Brain: Tips From The Pros

Triathlon is arguably equal parts physical prowess and mental mettle. Train your brain to think like some of the top pros in our sport.

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Triathlon is arguably equal parts physical prowess and mental mettle. Train your brain to think like some of the top pros in our sport.

Ben Hoffman
I envision the race as a puzzle with many small pieces—that way it never seems overwhelming. When I pass 10 more miles on the bike or run to the next aid station, that is one more puzzle piece in place. I don’t think about the whole bike course or the whole marathon until I’m near the end. It’s not a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle during the race. Instead it’s: Where’s the next edge piece?

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Linsey Corbin
I used visualization when my hamstring was injured last year. I worked with a sports psychologist who told me to visualize my muscle being rebuilt. Every morning I’d lie in bed and picture my hamstring starting out as small as a spaghetti noodle, then rebuilding muscle fibers, adding noodles until I had a whole healthy hamstring. I’d talk to my leg out loud—you have to do it out loud—using positive affirmations. I’d say, “OK, we’re gonna go for a run and we’re a team!” It was so stupid! But I was so desperate

I didn’t care.

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Pete Jacobs
Sometimes when I run and there’s long grass beside the path, I high-five the grass like it’s the spectators in the finish chute, visualizing having an awesome race and winning Kona. I also visualize giving a winner’s speech, thanking all the people that made a difference and helped me get there.

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Rachel Joyce
I run through each stage of the race two days before. I think about the start and try to remember how it feels, so it’s more familiar when I’m doing it and I’m not panicking about being bashed around the head! I mostly visualize the bad bits. If I lose my goggles I’ve thought in advance about what I’ll do. It’s easy when it’s going well, but you need to think about how you’ll feel when you’re having a bad patch, and then how you’ll combat that in a race. Otherwise it can spiral downward and your race is over. Almost everyone has a bad patch—it’s just about managing that and then coming through it.

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Meredith Kessler
As a collegiate Division I field hockey player it was engrained in my head to anticipate the needs of my teammates on the field and always keep my eye on the ball. I constantly envisioned a potential assist, goal or tackle before they even happened. In triathlon, I use the same visualization strategies. The ball is the finish line. It’s helpful to go over the play-by-play of the race in your head in order to keep everything dialed. It’s important to picture yourself swimming in open water and rallying through swells, keeping relaxed in an aero position on the bike while hydrating and fueling and then going through the same motions on the run—all while keeping your eye on the end goal: the finish line. My team now is my husband, coach, sponsors, family and friends. In training and racing, I visualize my team wherever they may be, cheering and smiling from afar. I imagine seeing their happy faces on the course and especially at the finish line. I picture my best friend’s little ones sitting at the computer on race day, watching “Auntie Mer” and wondering why on earth she is wearing a seal suit or has on a pointy helmet!

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Cameron Brown
I use visualization in a positive and negative way. I think about how I’ll feel winning the race. It gets me fired up if I’m having a hard training day. I also think of the negative things that can happen—a flat tire, a bad swim, a mechanical—so when it does happen I’m prepared and can feel that I’ve done this before. It’s amazing when people get a puncture for the first time in a race how much time they lose, as they don’t get their head around it and move on.

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Emma-Kate Lidbury
The most vivid example of visualization I’ve experienced was on the run course of a race. I was thinking back to an intense treadmill session with my running coach. I knew I was tiring in the race so I focused all my energy on imagining I was back on that treadmill. I could hear my coach’s voice, I could hear his technical cues and I could almost feel the treadmill beneath me! This totally distracted me from the physical pain and gave me the added bonus of improved run form in those vital moments. Ever since I’ve been wholly convinced of the power of mind over body. That moment came at the end of Ironman 70.3 Mallorca in 2011—my first 70.3 victory. Now I’m a four-time 70.3 champion!

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Michael Lovato
When preparing for a race that I’m familiar with, I imagine running or riding a particular section of the course, even though I’m training at home. If I can put myself in the mindset of being on Ali’i Drive, for example, when I’m actually on the Boulder Creek Path having a killer run, then when I am actually on Ali’i, I can think back to that particularly good training session.

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Melissa (Rollison) Hauschildt
During a hard session sometimes I visualize to keep pushing myself. I could be running a 1K rep and feel myself falling off the pace. If I hear a car coming up behind me, I visualize that it’s my competitor running me down. Obviously the car is a lot faster than me, so I pick a tree or a landmark up the road and race the car to that point. If I win, I’m back on pace. If the car beats me, I have to push even harder to catch back up to my competitor.

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