Athletes - It's been on my mind to write a piece on mindset and the influencing factors. Mindset is likely 90% of this whole endurance sport we pursue. Being the middle of July with some races in our pockets and some big ones still to come, I hope you will pause to consider how you may shift a little to show up every day, every training session, every race, every recovery moment, every presentation, every personal encounter with a supportive mindset. Below is specific to endurance sports however the ripple effect is real. Carol Dueck wrote Mindset - a book worth owning and reading.
An Athlete's Mindset
Being an athlete is a mindset…not influenced by your physical appearance, nor your talent, nor your experience in sport. If being an athlete is a mindset, how does one emulate an athletic mindset day-to-day, session-to-session, in training or not in-training? What are the thought patterns, approaches and action items that support an athletic mindset? I have 6. You may have more.
Before getting there, it’s important not to confuse mindset with mental training. Mental training is a form of visualization or mindfulness practices that create scenarios, emotions, circumstances, efforts, and flow to help cope with upcoming challenges or mentally experience a forthcoming event. Another form of mental training is to attach words or mantras to how we want to feel, behave or experience an upcoming event.
Mental training can be extremely effective for athletes looking to pre-create the sensations of a race (temperatures, wind, climbs, fatigue, hunger, smells, etc). While practicing mental training is a part of having an athlete’s mindset, is it only one component of how broad mindset can reach in all areas of our lives. With the upcoming Ironmans, Gran Fondos, Haute Route Stage Races, Ultramarathons, Ultraswims, SwimRuns and adventure races, there is no better time than now to adopt or reboot your mindset. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the difference between having an athlete’s mindset and not is…everything.
The Athlete Mindset Influencers (zero pre-requisites required):
Purpose. An athlete with a goal for a training session is determinately better than without. A plan gives purpose and purpose feels productive. The athlete that simply “gets through”, reacts to, checks the box, mindlessly “exercises” will rarely thrive beyond mediocre. Being deliberate with your training leads to performance gains. Training with purpose is a mindset.
Sleep. Think recovery, repair, reset, reboot, rejuvenate and restart all the physical and cognitive functions your body needs to operate at a high level. Sleep deprivation is a great depressant and destroyer of performance and perspective. If you are serious about developing as an athlete, sleep quality and quantity is the best performance enhancer out there. Deciding to make sleep a priority is a mindset.
Hydration. For those that attended the Brite Training Camp you will have learned the importance of hydration (www.precisionhydration.com). Simply carrying a water bottle around with you throughout the day signals to your mind and body that you are thinking ahead, looking after your needs and maintaining fluid homeostasis in your body. Dehydration can lead to severe training mishaps, elevated perceived efforts and brain fog. Hydration greases the joints, ligaments and tendons for movement and range of motion. Sipping clarifying water throughout the day is a mindset.
Reflection. Positive training sessions lead and feed more positive training sessions. After successful training sessions, our mind not only becomes resilience to adversity, we also tend to deflect challenges thanks to our newfound self-belief and confidence. Success breeds success. Effort, paces, watts become possible and therefore repeatable. Of course, the reverse can happen when negative workout experiences are fed. We start to limit effort and seek confirmation that we are unable to produce effort, watts, pace as proven previously. Flora Duffy is a great example of a world class ITU athlete whose success bred exponentially more success. Her dominance was so severe most competitors were racing for second. Reflection through the appropriate positive lens is a mindset.
Stress. How do we encapsulate the impact stress has on our lives? Unfortunately (and typically) when we are stressed in one area of our lives, it impacts everything else in our lives. What comes forth is only a B or a C effort vs. an A effort. When we allow stress to take over and engulf our entire being, we dilute much more than the course of stress, we dilute everything. The relationship we have with stress is complex since in order to grow we need a certain amount of stress to develop stamina and strength. Chronic stress is what really needs our attention. The non-stop relentless stress (physical is equal to cognitive is equal to emotional stress) will eventually sap us of joy, pleasure, perspective and enjoyment eventually leading to anxiety, depression, confrontation, dissatisfction and the inability to cope (with anything). The skill of stress management will set you free. The ability to compartmentalize stress will open spaces for creativity and performance. Putting life, work, community and family stresses aside when you need to race or train is a valuable mindset tool that requires awareness and practice. I find this to be a much bigger challenge for athletes that work and training at home. Compartmentalization of stress triggers is a mindset.
Self Care. How you take of yourself, as an athlete, after training session is paramount to performance. Training to allow for junk food throughout the day or hanging around in a sweaty gear or sitting at your desk for 3 hours after a long run are simply recipes for stagnation, deterioration in performance and long-term burnout. Paying attention to how you go about your day-to-day activities speaks volumes to how you will show up in training and definitely in racing. Looking after the obvious basics does not mean you are placing overarching self-importance on athletic performance and micro managing every single step, bite or sip you take. Simply reflect on areas in your life that clearly do not support self-care (mid afternoon cola, evening screen time, not addressing tightness or niggles, dehydration). Results or performance gains are not within reach if you are not treating your body with appropriate self-care. Self-care is a mindset.
If you are training for and toeing the line of an upcoming event or simply enjoy the athletic lifestyle and you have the physical side sorted out, start to integrate the mindset tools. An athlete’s mindset will maximize the effectiveness of your training time. Guaranteed.
I’ll finish with a great (and old) blog post by Gordo Byrn. Gordo is from the old days of triathlon and a true experiment of one. I appreciate his humility and willingness to share raw emotion and honest self reflection. Over my career as an athlete and coach, I have learned alot by following his journey as many others have too. This write is a humorous look into a Dave Scott Training Camp and fatigue. https://coachgordo.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/iron-school/