This article has been reworked by the author to specifically apply to outdoor athlete. Originally published on US Triathlon’s website: https://www.teamusa.org/usa-tr…/membership-services
By Will Kirousis, MS, CSCS, CISSN
Tri-Hard | Director
USA Cycling Certified Coach
USA Triathlon Certified Coach
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Certified Sports Nutritionist
Training for the adventures we all want to have in the great outdoors can feel like an entirely physical thing. How long, how hard,and how often do you train for what you are doing, and does that approach need to change at various points in the year? That is it… right? Wrong! That is certainly a big part of it – you need to do the physical work to be ready, that is certain. It is easy though, to forget about arguably the biggest driver behind whatever performance your physical training has you ready to deliver on race day…your mind!
I would like to present you with a simple approach/strategy to improve your mental performance in the field and a tool which can result in achieving your absolute best in training and the great outdoors. This strategy has helped athletes I have been fortunate to coach finish distances they did not think were possible; improve their performances; manage the challenges of work, family, and training; and even win races from the age group to professional ranks. To be clear, it is not “my” strategy. It is one that I’ve gradually worked towards and learned more about over the years. As with most things in training that work extremely well, it’s SIMPLE! So, what is that strategy?
The approach I’ve grown to use has been solidly influenced over the past several years by the work of many researchers in the realms of mindfulness and human performance. The key – it is simple!
You learn a few basic steps, begin to use them throughout the day in general, then while taking part in activities you enjoy and repeat. What are those steps?
1.) Acknowledge – no grading, no evaluation, just acknowledge that you are thinking or feeling something.
2.) Get curious – is this good? Could I do something to change it? What may that be? If not, what is the best move to get the most out of this situation?
3.) Try an idea out – give it time, see how things evolve, and repeat.
4.) Feel the joy of letting go of the challenging experience and moving forward.
Simplified further, this process comes down to acknowledging what you are feeling/experiencing, curiously looking at options that improve the situation, trying an idea out, and repeating as needed. This process helps keep the experience real but is also viewed through a lens of possibility. At its most basic, this approach keeps you focused on the question: what can I do now?
Note: NONE of these ideas are about you telling yourself things are easier or less challenging/daunting than they may be. They are simply about keeping your focus on what helps most – looking at what you can do, what tasks help most in that moment.
Consider how this could play out during a hike/scout/trip. Perhaps things have been going well, but late in the day, the clouds break, and the sun turns a cool humid morning into a sauna. You feel like you are melting, its brutal, it’s so hot! Ok. Clearly you are feeling the heat – literally and figuratively – but that does not change your situation. It is the same as prior to feeling the heat turn on. You are out there. So, what options are at hand that can help you handle this situation? You could slow your pace a bit, make sure your fueling is emphasizing electrolyte rich fluids, rest in a cool shady spot a bit or even take a brief soak in a cold stream if you are fortunate enough to have one around. Suddenly, there are several tasks which you could apply to help you continue to get the best out of yourself.
In the scenario I just described, you acknowledged that you felt hot, you did not give it a value, you simply recognized it was occurring. Then you became curious, and you sought out strategies to help you get the most out of the current situation. You then started to apply some of those strategies and enjoyed moving forward with these new ideas.
This simple approach – acknowledging what is being experienced, becoming curious about what you could do, trying it out and moving forward – is easy to remember and practice throughout life, when training, and during a big challenge or adventure.
I encourage each of you reading this article to try the mindfulness strategy laid out above. Really try it. Work it into your daily life, your work, your training, you’re racing. See how it helps you look for possibilities and work through big challenges consistently.
You will walk away able to get the most out of yourself, and perform your best this year!
Will Kirousis has presented and written for national and international organizations on endurance training and has been coaching triathletes and other endurance athletes for over 20 years. He’s been fortunate to help athletes achieve a range of goals, from finishing their first triathlon, to winning age group national and world championships as well as professional national championships. You can learn more about Will at www.tri-hard.com or by following him on twitter @willkirousis.