Copy these world-class habits to go for gold in your own training.

by Jennifer Ward Barber

The hours of repetitive training, and considerable mental fortitude needed, to compete and win is unfathanable so you need a strong support network.
Drawing from interviews with top athletes and coaches, along with psychological studies, author Olga Khazan covers seven ways Olympians keep their motivation up to the gold standard. Using Khazan’s findings as a jumping-off point, we adapted the advice for athletes pursuing an athletic journey involving a lot less snow and ice.
1. Talk it out
Drawing from two-decades old research on figure skating, the article outlines the coping mechanisms used by some elite athletes to get through difficult training periods. One used a mental tactic that could be summarized as turning the pressure on its head: “One (athlete) tried to displace the weight of the competition by convincing herself it was just for fun,” Khazan writes. IRONMAN professionals and age-group athletes alike use a similar tactic. “I don’t want to get overwhelmed so I do treat it like any other race,” said pro Gina Crawford.
2. Love the grind
Apparently, enjoying the training as much as or more than the competitive events themselves can provide an extra edge for athletes. As Australian athlete and Kona third-place woman Liz Blatchford said IRONMAN isn’t just about race results: “I am living the dream here”—doing what I love and to cap it off with good results was fantastic. Numerous age-groupers have echoed those sentiments, arguing that their love of the daily training regimen parallels—and sometimes exceeds—their love of competing.
3. Look on the sunny side
Guess what? Grumbling about how you’re feeling leading up to your A-race has even worse repercussions than annoying your training partners. It might actually hurt your performance. Studies have shown that negative moods tend to yield negative results. So whatever your goal, be it a sub 13-hour IRONMAN or qualifying for worlds verbalizing it now can only help your cause.
4. Know what’s coming
A recently-discovered section of the brain called the insular cortex has been found to be especially fine-tuned in elite athletes, helping them anticipate upcoming pressures and adapt to them quickly. The good news for triathletes? The repetitive nature of weekly workouts make us the perfect candidates for this type of awareness. That brutal Thursday evening group run? Knowing it’s coming is half the battle.
Related Article: 4 Mental Tricks for the Long Haul
5. Coach styles matter
A 2000 study pointed out that when it comes to following their coach’s advice, athletes are like children: they respond better to reason than barked orders. If a coach provides the rationale behind their sessions, the athlete is more likely to internalize the workouts and be successful. So don’t be afraid to ask why—chances are, your coach will be happy to tell you.
6. Miles and mindfulness
Mindfulness, or “the nonjudgmental focus of attention on an experience as it occurs,” may help athletes achieve a state of full immersion in an activity. This too can benefit triathletes, especially those pursuing long-course goals. “You go fastest when you keep your eyes in your own boat. Whether that guy downs 30 salt tablets or not doesn’t affect my race. If that woman has a faster-looking bike, so be it…I was wasting valuable mental energy focusing on anything except what I should’ve had my eye on: my race.”
That is mindfulness in action. “Don’t wish the race away.” The same could be said for everyday training.
7. Envision your next finish line
Despite the perks that being in the moment brings, there is a time for visualizing the future. This is also a chance to ask yourself what motivates you. Money, power, and fame probably aren’t among the top reasons we compete in triathlons, but if you’re the type who truly “trains to race,” focusing on your next event can provide the extra kick you need when running happily through the forest isn’t cutting it.
Biggest Loser participant and IRONMAN Lake Placid finisher Tara Costa keeps her goal right where she can see it. If you need to tack your race registration to the fridge, or Photoshop a past finish-line photo to reflect your upcoming race, try it. There are numerous ways to keep your engines firing, and you have to figure out what works best for you.

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