Mental toughness is skill. You need to learn how to suffer. You practice perseverance everyday when you are out training in the bad weather, when you ride or run further than you have ever gone before. Mental toughness is easy to get you simply decide to have it. You decide to get out and train when you don’t feel 100 per cent. You decide to not quit during the race no matter how badly you feel and you decide to dig deeper and pass a few people at the end of a race.
It sounds easy but mental toughness alone isn’t good enough. You need to combine that mental toughness with self-awareness and intelligence. I could decide to train hard everyday and I am tough enough to do it. However, after about 10 days I would be cooked and would have trouble finishing any race.
In road bike racing mental toughness is important. You have to stay in touch with the pack or your race is over. Someone who knows he can win a sprint can usually hold on a little longer when the pack is going fast than rider of equal fitness who is not a good a sprinter can. Knowing that if you can stay with the group you can win the race will give you that toughness to hang in there. The same can be said about a break away. If you can’t sprint but know you can time trial and get a bit of a gap, you will push harder when you are off the front because you know that is your chance to win. The same goes for climbing, if you can get away in the hills you will push yourself even harder when the hills come. Knowing a race suits your strengths and knowing you can do well gives you confidence. The ability to dig a little deeper comes from that confidence. Confidence automatically helps minimize your weaknesses and maximize your strengths.
You need to know when to apply that mental toughness you simply decided to have. Say you are running your first half marathon. Everyone goes really fast at the start. Do you dig deeper and keep up with them? No, that would be stupidity. You need to have enough discipline to keep to your own pace. The ability to push yourself cannot go deeper than your physical ability. Towards the end of the race when your legs feel as though they are falling off and all you want to do is stop is when you apply that toughness. You keep going and hold your cadence and concentrate on breathing. If someone passes you in a triathlon sometimes it takes more to hold back and let them go than it does to try to keep pace with them. Practice saying to yourself, “he/she will come back.” I have found most of the time they do come back.
The other scenario is you see someone on the bike and you spot him or her a couple times on the run. You can tell you’re at about the same level. Do you let that person beat you? Not a chance. Even though it is best to hold your own pace it is still racing. Feel free to make friends on the race course but don’t forget to compete with the people around you. In every race there are many smaller races going on.
Fitness, confidence, toughness, self awareness, intelligence and most importantly discipline are what you need to be a successful endurance athlete. Everything has to come together. It’s not easy for anyone. The best mental approach to triathlon training and racing is to do as well as you can, the best way you know how to. You need to go into a race or a training cycle with the attitude that you are there to do well, you are there to reach your goals but the results don’t really matter.