One of my closely guarded secrets is that my internal dialogue when training and racing is incredibly self-destructive and negative. This tends to come as a surprise to people because I am also the biggest cheerleader and encourager of friends when they undertake a challenge. Essentially, I believe wholeheartedly in them but I don’t really believe in myself and my own abilities.
Come race day, getting over that negative mental barrier will probably be the most difficult thing I have to do. Yes, even more difficult than swimming, cycling and running one after the other. Usually I race with my husband or Sahdya and can get over that barrier because I’m positively reinforcing their achievements whilst we’re together. But in a triathlon you are well and truly alone, just you and your own thoughts, in that special zone and that is where I will need to dig deep and cheer myself on.
One of the best ways I know to stay on track with positive thinking is having a few reliable mantras to chant over and over again inside my head. I’m not the only sport-crazy member of my family; there are a few other triathletes and an ultra-runner too, and our family motto at races is ‘Unleash the Kraken’. We don’t bother with wishing each other luck or telling each other to break a leg and have a great race…it’s always about unleashing the Kraken. Even my family in the States will send a message along those lines before the race, and it’s always a comfort and a way to get yourself psyched up and in the zone. It’s a powerful message rather than a gentle encouragement and it helps you to power through when you get to a particularly difficult point in the race.
Another little race motto which I borrowed from my friend Challenge Sophie is ‘She Believed She Could So She Did’. This one is a little tamer but when you’ve succumbed to that little dark corner of your mind it really helps to bring you back to positivity.
The photos above were taken in the swim section of a local triathlon I recently took part in. Those that are regular readers of my blog will know that swimming in a pool is really not my thing – I’m an open water baby, and I am also not the strongest front crawler (I have big powerful legs which help me along nicely with breaststroke but this isn’t the most efficient stroke for triathlon). I was shocked when I turned up to what had been badged as a ‘non-competitive’ triathlon to find 80% of the competitors in club trisuits and therefore knew that actually it would be the most competitive event I had taken part in all year. I was also feeling self-conscious in the trisuit I bought a few years ago which is just so unflattering on my body shape (good news is that today I took delivery of my lovely new SmashFest Queen trisuit and it is psychedelic and fabulous). With this in mind when they were putting people in ability order to start the swim I allowed my negative thoughts to creep in and firmly moved myself to the back of the pack whilst quietly contemplating my swim strategy. As it happens, I underestimated my ability and overtook four other swimmers in the pool which gave me a bit of a confidence boost. I also managed to have a really strong bike section and overtook three cyclists – including a guy, and felt great. Then I moved onto the run and struggled with my internal dialogue hugely. Because the swim and cycle are so technical I don’t necessarily have the time to entertain my thoughts too much during those sections (okay, aside from when cycling up big hills) but once you get to the run and it’s just you, your feet and your internal dialogue, and things get tough. Really tough. Also add in the fact that this is the last discipline of the event when you’re feeling physically exhausted and you can easily see how negative thoughts will start to form.
So my one promise to myself with the rest of my events this year is to ignore those negative thoughts and the moment they start to creep in, I’ll unleash the Kraken and continue to race strong and hard. It won’t be easy but it will mean I do myself justice.