When the body is screaming for respite, the mind becomes a powerful weapon
Create a mind bank of positive images and thoughts, Chrissie Wellington suggests
Divide the race into bite-size stages to help you reach the finish line
Editor’s Note: Chrissie Wellington is a four-time World Ironman champion and a guest coach for CNN’s Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. Follow the “Six-pack” on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on September 8.
In just a few weeks, the CNN Fit Nation team will join hundreds of others at the starting line of the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Of course, the ultimate goal is not simply to hear the sound of the starter’s gun but also to cross that hallowed finish line.
What would constitute a perfect race? Can we expect everything to go absolutely smoothly – no nerves, no pain, no discomfort, no horrible chafing?
I would argue that perfection is very hard to attain, in racing and in life. Rather, the so-called perfect race is the one in which we overcome imperfections perfectly. The beauty of triathlon, for me, lies precisely in the juxtaposition of highs and lows, ups and downs, bad times and good times.
The slumps are what make the win all the more rewarding.
It’s often toward the finish line, when the body is screaming for respite, calling on you to quit, that the most powerful weapon of all comes into its own. No, it’s not the capacity of our lungs or the size of our calf muscles. It is the strength of the weapon located between our ears.
Of all the body parts we train, none is more important than the mind.
It is the mind that has carried me through to some of my greatest victories, a mind that I have had to work hard to train and hone. Training the brain is as important as training the body, and although some characteristics are innate – self-motivation, drive, determination, stubbornness – there are strategies and tools that one can learn and develop.
Don’t worry, be happy
The brain is the master computer of the body. So feed it with positive thoughts. This is not the time for negativity.
As they near the finish line, all athletes should remember their motivation for taking up the challenge and recall just how far they have come since the start of the journey. Remembering the difficult training sessions that they have all endured will instill confidence in their capacity to succeed once more.
New triathletes should develop a mind bank of positive images and thoughts: family, friends, previous successes, favorite places, even a big burger. They will need to build it up as they would any collection, but soon they will have a range of thoughts to flick through when the going gets tough.
Repeat after me …
It’s crucial to have mantras and motivational material. I have special songs that I sing to myself, tunes that never fail to give me a boost and lift my spirits.
I carry a dog-eared copy of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I draw reassurance from the poem’s teaching of fortitude and level-headedness and tried to apply it to all areas of my life. I actually write the words on all of my race water bottles, as well as scribbling my mantra on my race wristband: “Never, ever give up – and smile.”
It might not be the same for everyone, but smiling, for me, is crucial. It relaxes my face and gives me a boost from the outside in, and it conveys just how much I love the sport and the occasion. So smile your way through the race. This is your time and your stage, and all athletes should celebrate the opportunity they have to shine.
Of course, we need these things to distract us from discomfort, but if your mind wanders too much, so does your body. So I always try to also remain focused on my technique and effort level.
Even in the latter stages of the race, continue to ask yourself questions: Are my arms relaxed? Is my face? Am I working as hard as I can? Am I breathing deep into my belly? If you stop that self-assessing feedback process, your face and shoulders become tense; you clench your fists or gasp for breath when you don’t need to. It all adds up to a waste of valuable energy.
Set mini goals
It’s very important to break any challenge down mentally. Don’t think about the race in its entirety, but rather divide it into small, bite-size stages. It could be getting to a swim buoy, passing an aid station on the bike or seeing family and friends on the sidelines on the run. You can even use other athletes as target practice if you want to! But try not to think too far ahead. Simply think about what is happening to you and your body at that moment in time.
Especially when you cross the finish line.