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Mental toughness is skill. You need to
learn how to suffer.
By Owen Baggott
Excuse the self indulgence
but as I prepare for Ironman Germany I have been thinking about what it
takes upstairs to be an endurance athlete. As the old saying goes, ďItís a
100 percent physical and itís 100 percent mental.Ē If you canít do it
physically you canít do it and if you canít do it mentally you canít do it.
Enough of the canít, this site is about what we can do.
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 donít 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 isnít 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 canít 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
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, ďhe/she will come back.Ē 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 youíre 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 donít forget to
compete with the people around you. In every race there are many smaller
races going on.
toughness, self awareness, intelligence and most importantly discipline are
what you need to be a successful endurance athlete. Everything has to come
together. Itís 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
donít really matter.
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