The Mental Game of Running Fast (Off the Bike)

The number one cause of a failed race plan for the age group (or pro) athlete comes from underperforming on the run. The longer the race — and run leg — the more you start to see athletes falling apart. I am sure this is no surprise to many of you reading this. The question is: Why does this happen?

We should start with the obvious answers first:

  1. Swim and bike fitness – With a lack of either; you will find yourself pretty wiped when the run begins.
  2. Swim and bike pacing – Spend all your mojo on the swim and bike and you will find yourself pretty wiped when the run begins.
  3. Lack of nutrition – Fail to eat/drink enough during these longer events and you will find yourself pretty wiped when the run begins (or somewhere down the road).

Now we move onto the less tangible side of things. If you want to be a high performing age group triathlete, then you will need to master the three above components. However, once you get to the pointy tip of the talent pool, you are going to have to master something else. You have to be able to mentally manage your fatigue and discomfort.

The fact is, even with great fitness, great pacing, and great nutrition, you are still going to find yourself fighting fatigue and discomfort on the run (and the swim, and the bike…). Sometimes you might only have to fight it for short bouts, other times you might be fighting it all day. I believe the best off-the-bike runners don’t allow themselves to think about how tired they are coming off the bike. Instead, they focus entirely on the task at hand (running) and completely immerse themselves in the moment. It is not uncommon to hear an athlete say, “I felt totally wiped coming off the bike” and yet they had a great run, and subsequently a great race. They did not allow their feelings in that moment to determine how they would feel for the rest of the race.

It’s a misconception that good training and good pacing will lead to easy racing. There is a great point made in the book, Complete Condition for Swimming: “Remember that the feel does not determine your performance… Regardless of the feel, your body has been prepared through systematic training and will give the desired result, but it might not feel great.”

This is one of the greatest points made in any book I have come across relating to sport. You cannot expect great performances to come easily, you can only expect that with the right training, the right pacing and the right nutrition you will have the opportunity to put together a great performance. When that opportunity presents itself you have to trust in your preparation and make it happen for yourself.

Before every race, I like to tell my athletes (and myself) that someone is going to have a great race today. And it might as well be you. Make it happen!