It Starts With the Heart

By Mark Turner | Jan. 23, 2018, 4:03 p.m. (ET)

laughing exercise

“It is the heart always that sees, before the head can see.” – Thomas Carlyle

As we approach the 2018 season you may already be planning for your desired physical gains and improvement in performance. For most this usually involves plans focused on the performance of the body. For a more limited number of athletes those plans will also include mental strength training and improvements. But it is for those few who will go that next step further and focus on the leading and vision of their hearts who will yield the most enduring achievements in 2018 and beyond. I am convinced that when the athlete trains and competes out of a place of deep love for their sport performance increases while stress is actually reduced. And this approach is not for the elite athlete only. Within every athlete who pursues the challenge of triathlon beats the heart of a champion!

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

You have a vision of your upcoming season: A race distance to be taken on, a PR at a race, personal fitness gains, perhaps a podium.  But if that vision resides primarily in your head and not in your heart as well, you are at a significant disadvantage as you pursue your own personal greatness. As important as the metrics of heart rate, pace, power, etc. are to improving performance, when they are uncoupled from the focus of the heart they will fall short of helping you achieve your fullest potential. Let your heart and soul drive your vision for the season and your training and racing will be deeply energized.

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” – Zelda Fitzgerald

When we move away from a fixation on the metrics, we can readily focus our energy on the more elusive energy potential of the human heart. Not simply the physical potentials related to heart rate, heart rate variability or blood volume capable of being measured by our devices and in laboratories, but rather the vast potential found only in the yearning that resides deep within the heart and soul of the athlete. The place where dreams are born, embraced and pursued with passion. This is where we are able to tap into the greatest energy potential of training any athlete possesses: The heart level love and passion for the sport.

“Your heart is full of fertile seeds, waiting to sprout.” – Morihei Ueshiba

Balancing the stress areas that accompany everyday life, like family, work and careers, with the added mental and physical stress of athletic training can be a challenge for anyone. So when the focus of our preparation becomes driven overwhelmingly by data and metrics, the process can often get lost in the mix. A focus on results can begin to drive motivation and eventually motivation itself actually suffers. When the love of the sport is the primary factor that gets you up and out the door there will always be motivation to spare. Your heart level love of training and racing cannot be measured and judged wanting. And yet your best performances will always be rooted in your heart level love of the sport.  Because it is in the athlete's heart that the seeds of personal greatness are sown and nurtured.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.” – Paulo Coelho

There is risk in this approach as well. The heart can be broken. It is far more risky to trust in the heart's longings than numbers. But in the breaking and unbreaking of the heart, an athlete grows the most. Character is built through such adversity and the heart and soul of the athlete matures and grows stronger. To be led by our heart requires the courage to risk more than metrics; we must risk the deepest part of ourselves. But that is where the greatest rewards are found. There is no greater fountain of human potential than when we embrace with the heart the pursuit of a dream bigger than ourselves. So if you are not already being led by a love for the sport, begin to seek out that love and let your heart guide your vision. Remember, the pursuit of real greatness starts with the heart.

Mark Turner is a Senior Coach with Team MPI. He is a USA Triathlon Level I and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, an IRONMAN Certified Coach, a VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and Strengths Performance Coach. Coach MarkT is a multiple IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 finisher. He works with athletes of all ages and abilities from triathletes to ultra distance runners. He can be reached at markt@teammpi.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.