It’s All in Your Head: Train Your Brain for Success

By Allie Burdick | July 22, 2016, 6:25 p.m. (ET)

runner
What if I told you that you could massively improve your triathlon racing without breaking a sweat, pulling on Lycra or lathering up with chamois cream? One of the most important factors related to the outcome of your training and racing has absolutely nothing to do with swimming, biking or running and has everything to do with the chatter inside your head.

You may have racked up significant mileage in your training and have your nutrition on point but, how often do you check in, train and re-train your brain? If you do not spend time talking to yourself in a positive and effective way, you could be damaging one of your most important race day assets — your mental strength.

Mantra Words Matter

Mantras — we all have them. If we’re smart, we practice them and use them exactly when we need to. But, did you know that each word in your mantra matters to your brain? For example, it’s much better to have a constant chant of “set your pace, run your race” instead of “can’t stop, won’t stop” since the words “can’t” and “won’t” are perceived negatively, even though they are part of a very positive mantra.

In fact, Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Walman, the authors of the book "Words Can Change Your Brain" write, “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” If a single word has that much power, choose yours carefully.

Knowledge is Power

Endurance athletes are no strangers to pain; it’s how you handle that pain that can make or break a race or training cycle. There are quite a few experts in this regard and they have written extensively about mental strength and how to hone and unite your mind and body so they are completely connected.

A great place to start training your brain is to follow these guidelines:

1. Read up! Books like “How Bad Do You Want It?” By Matt Fitzgerald will set you on the right path.

2. Running, triathlon and endurance training podcasts are continuously interviewing experts on the topic of mental strength. Plus they are perfect to listen to on the run!

3. Once you are comfortable with a few key mantras, use them every time you train so by the time you need them on race day, they will work!

Words Matter Even When You’re Not Sweating

During a hard run, swim or bike is not the only time we are having conversations with ourselves. Especially in the taper week or days leading up to a race, we can be continuously filling our minds with endless chatter about what is to come. This is a very important time to choose your words carefully.

Visualization techniques can do wonders for race day and so can a constant stream of positive self-talk. If you continue to picture yourself having the perfect race and, reinforce those visions with assurances that you have done all the work, are strong and race ready, then you will be! 

Remember, what your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Race on!

Allie Burdick is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. She has been running and competing her entire life and was recently part of Team USA in duathlon and will be competing at the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. Her writing has appeared in Runner's World, Women's Running and ESPNW. She blogs about triathlon and marathon training at VitaTrain4Life.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.