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Mental Skill Strategy — Chunking

By Troy Jacobson | June 23, 2009, 12 p.m. (ET)

Success in triathlon comes as a result of mastering one's physical and mental abilities. While most triathletes and their coaches work diligently on their training programs and preparing the body for competition, only the very best incorporate mental training strategies too.

Mental training can occur in various ways but the research and anecdotal evidence clearly indicates that athletes who pay attention to 'training the mind' enjoy improved results across the board. One key component of mental training that we'll address in this article is an area known as 'performance segmenting' or 'chunking.'

The scientific term, Performance segmenting (chunking), is the art of breaking an event or a task into its component parts. By doing so, the athlete achieves a higher level of focus and self-awareness, enhancing his or her ability to perform at their highest level throughout the entire event and therefore achieving better overall race times.

For example, during an Iron distance triathlon, the thought of covering over 140 miles would simply be too overwhelming for the athlete. A recommended strategy would be to break the race into chunks and in essence, going from point 'a' to point 'b' as opposed to going from point 'a' to 'z.'

For the swim leg, this might involve focusing on swimming from buoy to buoy. On the bike, one might consider thinking about chunking the 112 mile race into component parts of 10 miles each and developing a nutrition and pacing strategy around those smaller, more manageable distances. And for the run leg, working the race from mile to mile is far more effective than tackling the entire 26.2 miles in its entirety.

'Chunking' is a mental skill strategy that should be developed by the competitive endurance athletes for all distances. Doing so will yield significant results on race day.

Coach Troy Jacobson, the founder of the Spinervals Cycling Video Series and a former pro triathlete, is the National Director of Endurance Training at LIFE TIME FITNESS. With over 80 fitness centers throughout North America, LIFE TIME FITNESS offers a full array of multisport training programs and services for the recreational and competitive triathlete. For more information, visit or