With tri season underway, a common question I receive is how to effectively manage the fear that is commonly associated with the triathlon. It’s common for triathletes to experience fear about swimming in the open water, fear of crashing on a descent, and fear of failure, just to name a few. Fear can be one of the most powerful psychological obstacles an athlete can face and it can profoundly affect an athlete’s ability to achieve his or her goals. It is important to understand that experiencing fear is normal, but it is not something that will just go away on its own, so it is important to take steps to grab control of your fear. The goal is not to completely get rid of the fear because experiencing a little fear will help to keep you safe and sharp, but the key is to manage your fear effectively so it is no longer holding you back from performing at your best.
5 Tips for Mastering your Fear
Build Experience – Put yourself in situations where you can gradually and safely face your fear. If you haven’t swam in the open water or you have trouble with it, join a swim clinic (Click here for some great clinics offered by MHM). If you are fearful of bonking on the run, schedule some B races so you can practice running your goal pace or to try out nutritional strategies. Using imagery techniques to see yourself effectively dealing with the fearful situation is also another powerful tool that can build the feeling of experience and build your confidence for the situation.
Have a Solid Race Plan – Fear is often associated with “what if” questions. “What if I bonk,” “what if I get kicked while swimming and my goggles come off,” “What if I crash on my bike.” Often these “what if” questions can spiral out of control and cause you to focus on all of the wildly negative and oftentimes irrational things that could do wrong. Putting the situation into perspective, focusing on the things that you can control and preparing a solid plan for how you are going to deal with those “what ifs,” if and when they arise, can help to ease the mind and keep you moving forward.
Reinterpret your Fear – When you notice the fear starting to creep in, reinterpret the fear you are experiencing as excitement for the opportunity to test your limits. There can be no courage without fear because courage is confronting your fear head on and overcoming it. Isn’t the reason why we decide to take on such feats as a triathlon or marathon or new a promotion at work because we love the challenge and the ability to test our limits to see what we are capable of? Remind yourself of your “why” and get excited about it!
Shift your Focus – Develop specific cue words or phrases that will help shift your attention off the fear and onto the process of the performance. The more you are focused in the moment on what you need to do, the less likely your mind will wander onto the things you fear.
Relaxation – Fear leads our bodies to activate the stress response, which causes all sorts of physiological changes that often get out of hand and become detrimental to our performance. In addition, when we are spinning our wheels focusing on what we fear, we are wasting critical energy that could be used for our performance or recovery. Using relaxation and ramp down techniques such as deep breathing can help you grab control of your physiology and ease your mind and body.
Written By Ashley Corn: Ashley Corn is the Owner and Lead Consultant of G.U.T.S. Coaching Services, the only coaching company in the Front Range that is devoted solely to the training the mental side of performance. For more information or to sign up for G.U.T.S. FREE monthly newsletter, visit their website at www.gutscoachingservices.com.