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Five mental tricks for competing at your best


By Dan Way

There’s no doubt that the time and energy spent training will go far in preparing you for race day. But repeats and long runs aren’t the only tools that will give you an edge on the starting line. There are also a number of simple mental tricks and psychological tools that are proven to be effective and can help you get a head start on the competition.


A mantra is a simple sentence or combination of words that are personally meaningful, help keep you focused and distract you from discomfort. A mantra can be anything and doesn’t need to make sense. Generally, they’re short, positive and instructional. Most importantly, it should mean something to you. Mantras are useful both in training and during a race — particularly when things start to get tough — and can be repeated as often as necessary, internally or externally.

Here are a few to consider:

I’ve come so far. What’s a few more?

Each step is one step closer.

It’s still faster than walking.

It hurts to continue but will hurt much more to stop.

This is what I trained for.

Be tall. Be light. Float forward.

Finish strong.


Meditation doesn’t need to mean sitting in a dark room with your legs crossed. It can just be a few minutes of quiet time dedicated to focused thinking about your race or workout. Find a quiet place and time and commit to spending five minutes or more just focused on your swim, bike or run. Relax your muscles and concentrate on your breathing. You should feel your heart begin to slow down. Try to think about how the sport improves your health, fitness, productivity or any and every other benefit it provides. Recall that health is a combination of physical, mental and social components and that triathlon can be beneficial to every aspect of your life.


This is a more specific type of meditation and requires you to focus and concentrate on a particular topic, in this case your upcoming race. Picture yourself on the starting line, feeling relaxed and confident. Imagine the early part of the race as you settle into your goal pace feeling comfortable and in control. Picture key points and landmarks along the course — the halfway mark, the crowds of supporters, perhaps your family and friends cheering you on — and how good it will feel racing to a good performance. Anticipate that things will get tough in the final part of the race but that you’ll be fine. Finally, visualize yourself finishing the race as you hope to, fast and strong. Imagine yourself crossing the line in your goal time and how happy you are to have achieved your goal. Picture the medal being hung around your neck and the smile on your face that you just can’t control.


Taking time to look back on past races and training can help you gain confidence in your preparation as well as suggest what areas you may need to improve upon. Look back on your best runs and try to recreate the feelings of satisfaction and exhilaration you felt. Take stock of all the mileage you ran in training and which has prepared you for success. Think about the improvements you’ve already made and how far you’ve come. If you do have an area of weakness, think about what you’ve done to work on them and be better than you were before. Be sure to also take on a relative view and be grateful for being able to run and how running has enhanced your life. Think about why you started and how far you’ve come. Where triathlon has taken you and where you want it to go.

Checking in

Also called introspection, this refers to looking within and gauging how you feel in various situations. It’s a subjective assessment of how much effort you’re giving or how much discomfort you feel. Being able to detect when you’re working hard or in pain allows you to make adjustments to your pace and not exceed your limits. Making a conscious effort to gauge how you feel at various paces and points of a run will enable you to better adjust to changing circumstances and adapt quickly. It also helps to do this at various points of a race such as early on when you should be feeling comfortable; at the midway point when you can start to focus on the finish and in the final stages when you’re tired but know the end is near. Some people count their breathing rate, the number of strides they take or even the phone poles they pass in order to help distract them from discomfort while keeping focused on the task at hand.

What do you think? Have these mental tricks worked for you? What else do you do to gain a mental edge when competing ?