Improving your triathlon psychology
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Kevin: Welcome to tri swim coach. This is Kevin. And this is episode number 49. So today I have a special guest. And he’s going to talk about a part of triathlon that often gets overlooked. But if you don’t have it, you’re really missing out and you’re probably going to be off in the other aspects of the sport, and also your life. So that’s the mental game or mindset. And I’m really excited about this aspect of triathlon because I think it’s, even though it’s been around for a while and people have talked about it a little bit, I haven’t seen to this extent as to what Chris is going to present here in the interview here coming up in just a second. And I also I’ve been talking to other people about this and I really think that this is THE key. This is the underlying factor that going to help people not just get faster, but for people trying to complete a race or train to finish even a sprint triathlon. It’s something that can help you get over anything that’s blocking you at this point. So, I’ll let Chris fill you in on that in a second.
So other than that, this is a really long interview so I’m breaking it up into two parts. And the first part is available to everybody and it’s on iTunes. And then the second part is going to be available just to the TriSwimSecrets members. So I’ll have that in the membership area. So if you want to catch up and listen to the whole thing, you can join as a member at triswimsecrets.com or just go to efficienttriathletes.com. And without further ado, let’s get along with the interview. And I hope you’re having a great week and will talk to you soon…
Alright, well I’m really excited to have Chris Jensen on the show today. He’s with triathletemind.com. Chris is an expert strategist and coach in developing the clarity, mental strength, and emotional endurance necessary to master the inner game of triathlon. He is a lifelong student and passion practitioner of peak performance psychology and emotional mastery to achieve extraordinary results for its clients. A successful and ambitious athlete in his own right, Chris has won championships in five different sports, including becoming the three-time national champion and a world number one ranked amateur. He has competed in super sprints, sprints, team relays, and ironmen 70.3 triathlons. He has been a highly regarded advisor and trainer to some of the world’s top performing companies such as Apple, Votophone, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and Intel. He founded triathelemind.com to help triathletes tap deeper into their full potential inorder to train better, race faster, achieve their personal best in record time while experience more fun and enjoyment along the way. He’s from Canada originally, but is now living in London. Chris welcome to the show…
Chris: Thanks Kevin. Great to be here and great to show my thoughts to you and your listeners.
Kevin: Yeah, definitely! I like what you have to say about what your goals are about your website and especially the part about experiencing fun and enjoyment along the way. Dan wrote about this post too about what is the reason, what’s the goal, and what’s the “why” behind why we’re doing what we doing in terms of sports, so…
Chris: I think for alot of triathletes or people who are trying to get into triathlon, there tend to be a certain personality, certain ambitious and we like challenges. And there are so many elements of the sport. It’s easy to get swept into the details and the work and out of all the training and supplements and stuff you need to eat you kind of forget why you are doing it, and it becomes a second or third job if you got a young family, rather than a fun past time. So yea, so it’s good to remind people that everything should be fun in related to this sport.
Kevin: Yeah, I had another question of your bio there. So you said you’re a passionate of peak performance psychology. What exactly is that?
Chris: In the field of psychology that there’s alot, I would say to be quite honest, alot of baggage around the word psychology. People may think about psychologist being a sport psychologist, they think a bit more down the therapy line that there’s a problem with you or somebody so they need to seek help out that way. But in the last, probably, last 20-30 years that there has been a massive movement to the other side of psychology not dealing with problems, but actually dealing with what is actually the mindset to be the best, to perform at your peak and to do that consistently…
And it has been a whole development on positive psychology and looking at how people, optimism lead too and all those kinds of things. When I talk about Peak performance psychology it’s really about what is that combination of your mindset, your attitude, your decisions that you make, but also your emotions. You know it’s so much with what we do as driven by our emotions and how we don’t give ourselves enough credit. I think that most people don’t give themselves enough credit for the amount we can control our emotions. Regardless of what happens to us. So if you combine all of this together it forms what i refer to as the inner game as you mentioned. And it really is a critical element to being at your best in this sport. And alot of most triathletes, I think, do take on the sport of triathlon they get into the sport because they love the challenge; the challenge of pushing themselves, or maybe against theircompetitors. And if you’re going to do something for the challenge you kind of want to do it well I would think, wouldn’t you?
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. And one of the things that this reminds me of I have another podcast that I do, some of the listeners are aware of it, it’s called healthy mind fit body, and we talk about psychology when it comes to fitness and health and weight loss. What I like to leave out is that there are all these diets out there and all these plans you need to get fit, but they forget that the mental side of it is huge and it’s like if you don’t have that like you can have the perfect diet, the perfect plan, and if you don’t have the psychology to go along with that, you’re probably not going to succeed and it reminds me of this where if you’re training for a race and the psychology is missing but you got all the energy to go and do all the workouts it’s still going to be tough to breakthrough and have your best peak performance.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. I think you need to step away from the language around of psychology, because I’ve said, I think alot of people turns alot of people off. And it prevents them from opening themselves up too with how could I develop this part of my game. The way I look at it is quite simply and that is that there is a difference between knowledge and action and specific consistent action. Like you just said, there’s tons of information out there on how to get fit and lose weight and train for triathlon. The plans are numerous out there; the different plans are out there and the magazines with the information out there. So if you want to be great, it should be as easy as reading a magazine or signing up in a program like yours Kevin, which is fantastic. And getting that knowledge but something prevents you from actually putting it into practice consistently. So there’s that difference between knowledge and action. There’s also the difference between desire and decision. We all love to be fit, and to be fit and healthy, but alot of us don’t make the decision, the commitment, that we are actually going to follow through on our wish, on our interest of ours. There’s a desire for us to really achieve a personal best on our next Olympic triathlon, but are we going to make a decision that’s necessary to say, you know what, I actually made many sacrifices over these next few weeks for my family or my work. Or I need to say no to the friend’s party on Saturday night because I want to get up early on my Sunday morning ride. And with these differences what I do is I help people, triathletes, I help them close these gaps; the gaps between decision and desire; the gaps between knowledge and action. And get people to behave in a way that allows them to actually show up as the person they want to. Show as that kind of that ambitious athlete and whatever way that means for that person, but allow them to kind of work through some of the internal conflicts they have. They want something but don’t necessarily what it takes to get there or they don’t want to sacrifice what it might they may believe to sacrifice. So what I think when you can step away from the language of psychology, you look at as you want to do more what I really want to do. I actually follow through on the things I keep telling myself I got to do. I really want to get up in the morning and start training, but the alarm and I’m sleeping and tired and I don’t do it. That’s what we’re talking about mastering your inner game. That has nothing to do with your physical skills or your knowledge of the sport. It’s about the decisions that you’re making in the moment. So that’s where I put my focus on…
Kevin: Yeah, that’s awesome. Taking a step back here, what do you think let to your passion for the sport of triathlon?
Chris: I’ll try to make a long story short, but as you mentioned in the start. I’ve been an athlete just over 30 years now; A competitive athlete even as a young tike. The moment I got involved in sports, I was playing different sports growing up in Canada was playing the traditional team sports and at a high level. As I said won championships in five different sports and I decided that maybe there is something I can do with this, maybe there is some extra skills or above average talents that I have and I decided that I pursue my own abilities as I push myself as far as I can really go. As I have a decision that I needed to focus on one sport and for me that was football. I was a quarterback in high school and went on to play on a university and after university as well. So I’ve always have this I suppose at my core this drive to push myself and take on new challenges. Just to see what I’m really made of. I believe, not to get too deep here, but I believe you got one chance at this thing called life, and you better live it to your fullest. So I said you know what that’s going to be my mission is to really push myself. And when I moved over here to London and to Europe 8 years ago now, I kind of lost of all about connections with the team sports and got into the endurance sports. I started running marathons starting with the 10k races and then marathons. And when I ran my first marathon, which I use to think that was the ultimate challenge, that I couldn’t do anything more than that my body wasn’t capable. But as soon as I did my first one, even though I was sore, I was like ‘ahh it wasn’t too bad,’ I need a bigger challenge. And right at that moment, I said, I need to do an Ironman. And so I’ve been working towards that and exactly two months from now I’ll be doing my first ironman. I’ve embraces all the distances but yea for me ultimately it comes down too it’s a challenge to push myself. I’m not going to win any races, but I can certainly step on top of my own personal podium along the way.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s awesome. I know that in London and around the UK, that triathlon is getting quite popular, is it….
Chris: Yeah, yeah, it’s massive. Yea, yea, it’s huge and I’m not quite sure I looked around and I had some conversations but I haven’t been able to pin point exactly why. I just think there’s a strong system at the top; very strong national federation. I forget the numbers. To quote them off my head I wouldn’t be able too but just last weekend at the world duathlon championships. Team GB, team Great Britain as they call them over here, took away something like 73 metals. That’s massive. And I was at the triathlon world championships last year in Budapest and watched all the age groupers come in. And if I was to guess I would say I was in the age groupers of all the athletes in the world that were competing in the world championships from teams late teens to those in their 60s. I would say probably around 60-70 percent were Brits.
Chris: It was incredible. Think just a strong theatre system. It’s a strong club sport. There’s alot of heritage in club here versus I suppose in North America and perhaps in Australia, I’m not sure, but certainly in North America are more school sports and school teams. People are competing in there high school or for their college or university. And triathlon, at least this far, is gaining in that in North America but it really never was really on the radar. So it’s growing that way. So I think this strong federation, and lots of clubs and it’s surprising because we all know the weather doesn’t really support biking, running, and swimming all year round.
Kevin: I think I asked a guy here in San Diego that’s from the UK, I said, “why do I meet so many triathletes from Britain?” and I said it didn’t strike me as the type of place that it would be really popular there. And he said well, the weather is so bad that you either sit in the pub and drink beer or you go out and train for something.Haha, yeah, makes sense to me…
Chris: Definitely makes sense. And there is a strong running, a communing across the country as well. And you look at the world class level; you get people like Helen Jenkins and Alistair Bradley that just won the ITU world championships. You got Chrissy Wellington, a Brit, who’s you know, you don’t need to say too much about her in this audience. Look at Paula Radcliff, the world record holder in the marathon. It’s pretty impressive with the Olympics now. Its 304 days away out here in London. There are lots of bells around that. And I think that’s going create another spike of participation and interest in the sport which is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic…
Kevin: Well, what do you say that separates you from other tri-coaches out there?
Chris: Well, I think building from what I’ve already said is that my focus is on the inner game. Helping athletes to achieve their potential, by mastering inner game. And while I’ve been a very experienced athlete, I studied alot about sports nutrition. I wouldn’t position myself and I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert on physiology or sports science, or biomechanics or putting nutrition plans, specifically. Aware of that stuff, more have I developed my expertise, my focus, and really my passion is on the inner game. And so I actually work with athletes directly. I coach them. I’m working with an athlete right now who’s preparing for the world long distance championships in Las Vegas next month, about 6 weeks away. And some other athletes who are trying to be better in their age group races they sport for a couple of years. That they recognize that this is an area they want some improvement in and some growth on. The other thing is that I compliment what other coaches do. So you know an athlete that has a triathlon coach, and in fact, most of my athletes that I coach one-on-one, they have a triathlon coach, who’s put together a training program and could talk about how they are doing in their training sessions, and planning for the seasons and etc. But that is really the difference, is that I compliment the other coaches and I believe main focus is really a specialist on the mental and emotional on their inner game.
Kevin: Yea, now. Can you get into what the inner game exactly means and why it’s so important for triathletes or even aspiring triathletes who get handled?
Chris: Sure! One of the challenges with the inner game is that it’s less tangible than the other parts of the sport. People can get and see what a swim stroke looks like or they understand how more power on the bike can be helpful. I’ve tried various ways and I think the simplest to explain it is you picture perhaps a pyramid, with different layers, and at the top is the results you are after. It’s maybe the time you’re trying to achieve or a certain race you want to perform well in. Or maybe it’s that certain placing even. Maybe you are the type of athlete that has the opportunity to win a race or even be at the top in your age group. But whatever your results are, you say okay well that’s my result then how am I going to get that. I need to take certain actions. I need to behave in a certain way. I need to be diligent in my training. I need to have a smart training plan. I need to be able to push myself, to expand my physical capability and develop my physical skills, etc. So, that’s where most people’s focus goes in life and in the sport. Like what actions I need to do and what’s on my to-do list this week. I need to swim this distance or run this distance, etc. And that’s where usually people stop. But the critical thing when you start to understand the impact of the inner game and you go back to my earlier comments about there’s a difference between knowledge and action and there’s a difference between desire and decision. And that, if all your focus is on the actions you need to take you got to ask yourself the question, “what drives my actions?,” or more importantly perhaps “what stops me from taking the action when I know I should?,” “What stops me from showing up in my training workout with all the stresses of the day carrying on my back?” “What stops me when getting into that workout when I’m really tired?” You can understand that the real what really drives your actions are your emotions, and your thoughts in that moment. Your thought pattern perhaps and some of the habits you got. That’s the stuff that all happens in your inner game. And sometimes it goes to a deeper level down that pyramid or to the foundation of that pyramid. You get into something, your real core. The things that you believe about yourself, what you’re capable of or what you’re not capable of. Some of the rules you have around, you know, I’m dealing with one athlete last year who was, she called herself a fair weather athlete. As soon as it got alittle wet, a little windy outside, she didn’t want to really workout. And that’s going to stop you from being the best athlete that you can be. And if these little decisions often called mastering the moment, what happens in that moment of decision, do you stuck up or do you fade. So really it’s the inner game that underpins all of your actions. And it’s not just, what we could talk about this later, it’s not just about mental toughness, but it is all these decisions you are making in a matter of seconds sometimes. And what I do is I help kind of unpack. You know when you look at what the world’s best do, and you look at what they do almost intuitively. They don’t necessarily plan it out, you know, structure wise to what they’re going to think and how they’re going to feel, but they do it intuitively. They think this way, respond to a situation intuitively in their own way, and that appeals to be the best. What’ve done from studying peak performance for over 20 years now is I’m been able to unpack what would the world class do intuitively. I’ve been able to simplify that and teach it to people to do it consciously. So people now can start too. That’s the whole part of the peak performance psychology is be able to teach people in really simple, tangible, and most importantly, practical way that they can integrate into their day to day training or the races and/or their race preparation; an easy way that can make a tremendous difference.
Kevin: Yeah, this is really cool stuff because it reminded me of some of the things that I’ve studied over the years about basically obtaining wealth and making money and things like that. I read a book and went to a seminar a few years ago by the guy name T. HarvEcor, The book The Millionaire Mind. And he talked about the financial blueprint and how we all have this blueprint and if you don’t change that. If you’re stuck in this one mindset, you could be poor your entire life even if you don’t want to be poor. You want to make alot of money but you’re stuck in this one mindset that you are not able to break out of because of this psychological blueprint. And it’s very similar to what you’re saying, which is really interesting, because it’s like you can see how all of this, it’s your whole life. It’s not just this one area where it’s just like your sport, it’s like your whole life is this thing, this psychological blueprint.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. I can just build an example I mentioned there. This athlete I had last year who said she was a fair weather athlete, or a fair forgot the phrase she actually used, but what she said was she said that she runs but doesn’t considers herself a runner. She bikes but doesn’t consider herself a cyclist. And she didn’t really feel like she was an athlete, let alone she was doing triathlons, but even that label of being athlete and she was 50 years old. She was an age grouper. And she loved the sport. But she had a real struggle with considering herself an athlete. So I asked her some simple questions to be able to explore what some of those thoughts were that were causing her to feel that she wasn’t really an athlete. And what it turned out to be to her surprise was that she has some friends who have been athletes for a long time and kind of the weekend warrior athlete, but what she realized was that what something has turned her off about how they behaved was that they were obsessed about everything. They’re obsessed about the clock and there eating. They were so structured and regimented in their approach that she equated that behavior as being an athlete. She didn’t want to behave that way. It wasn’t in her nature. So by having that close association,that close link to have to be that way to be an athlete, she prevented herself from allowing herself to feel like she was an athlete eventhough she was quite proud of what she did. And it’s such a cute story because she said she was 50 years old, and she volunteered in her local synagogue. She worked on her board of the synagogue in a Jewish community, and as she would always say after she realized what was holding her back she always walked into these meetings with a secret smile on her face because the people around her has no idea she has cycled 50 miles to get to that meeting. And she’s a petite Jewish woman. But finally she was able to embrace that. She was not longer fighting being an athlete because she suddenly became aware that that was the reason why she was holding back because she thought she had to be something is didn’t want to be. And through all my work, and I know some of the stuff you have explored as well Kevin that it never ceases to delight me, I suppose, and surprise me how many of these underlying beliefs or rules that we have around what we can do and what we can’t do suddenly become. They just disappear when we become aware of these are the thoughts that are driving us. And again, I know why the inner game is so important. If you’re not familiar with thinking this way or not being that self-aware can be kind of confusing at times when you got these different thoughts going on. And so that’s what I work on athletes to do is to unpack that,and help them to understand their own way.
Kevin: Yeah, and it’s so important. I’ve talked to a lot in this podcast about the fears that come up with triathlon especially, in particular swimming. What do you find is the most difficult thing about triathlons for most people, and what are some ways to overcome those fears in just getting to beat that challenge.
Chris: I think that’s a great question because I think also that you know the dynamic that plays that triathlon is a rapidly growing sport. And you’re getting alot of people who are very new to it, and alot of people, also, who I haven’t really been athletes before. Certain there’s alot that’s coming into the sport because they were swim, bike or runner before or other sports like team sports. It’s also attracting alot of people who are taking this on as there fitness challenge. And we could quickly brain storm and list out things like fear of swimming in the water, crashing on the bike, bonking on the runs, getting really exhausted, overeating beforehand, getting too tired. We can go through and talk about some of these but for me, I kind of rise about all those and say what’s the real situation that’s going on here. And that is that triathlon is a complex sport. You have three quite different sports, you got the transitions as well, and you got your nutrition. And in being in a new sport there’s lots of information out there around it especially now in the internet. And I think the biggest challenge that triathletes face is being overwhelmed by information, and indecisive or unclear as to what they should be doing. I had a very good conversation with Joe Friel not that long ago who is the author of the triathletes training bible. Very well known in this sport, and you know this is the man who’s been coaching triathlon for over thirty years and has been an elite coach. One of the original certified USA triathlon a lead of alot of coaches. And he says the number one thing that is a problem with triathletes is they over train. The most triathletes train too hard. For me, that’s an inner game issue is that people have this belief that they need to put in extra effort. They need to figure out all the details. And so, they get confused. Speaking to another coach here based in the UK who coaches alot of triathletes. While we were chatting, I said “what’s the biggest thing you find with your athletes? What are the challenges?” He said that he gets questions all the time. You know 10 o’clock at night I’m getting a text message. And what really the triathletes are seeking is reassurance; reassurance that they are doing the right thing; reassurance that they are going to be ok; reassurance that there injury is going to heal in time for their race. I think that these mix of emotions and uncertainty and fears and overwhelmed with all the stuff and wanting to be great, back to the earlier point, sometimes that you forget that this is supposed to be fun. This is a choice. For most of us, this is not a job. So I think that is the biggest challenge is that people are overwhelmed with all the stuff they think they need to know and to be great at in order to be successful. And I think aside from that’s part of the inner game dynamic and that’s another reason why inner game is so important. To be able to relax your mind alittle bit, and relax yourself a little bit. Let’s simplify it. It’s a very complex thing so let’s simplify it. And simplify your decision making, simplify your focus, and simplify your actions. What’s to think about, you’re going to have more fun and be more successful along the way.
Kevin: Yeah, I don’t know if your familiar with Mark Sisson, Mark state-of-the-apple, have you heard of about that?
Chris: No, no.
Kevin: Ok, he was a former Ironman triathlete. He’s in his 50s now and he’s kind of gotten out of that phase of his life and he’s gone into more of like doing activities like ultimate Frisbee and stand up paddle and things like that. But he talks about alot of what you are saying in terms of having fun with it, and going out there and not being so serious and rigid and things like that. So it’s interesting to see that kind of parallel with what you are saying is. He emphasizes that we as humans are actually meant to play and actually have this recreational fun time. So in the sport of triathlon where there are so many elements to it, we have to keep getting back to that. This fun, this is not, we are not curing cancer here but…
Chris: For most of us we don’t need to participate to put a roof over our head and put food on the table. Well, most of use. Yea you are absolutely right. I had an athlete go through one of my programs. The five forces formula program that people can get in my website at triathletemind.com. And this is really interesting and is really pleasing the kind of impact that working on the master game can have. And this is an athlete from the States who had done sports and triathlons for awhile but kind of got alittle burnt out. And he was overwhelmed by alot of the stuff and was putting too much effort in, and kind of really did lose the fun. And by going through this program and the fact he was only one or two sessions into the six sessions he went out for a really long bike ride, and for the first time in a year and a half didn’t pay attention to his time at all. He wasn’t worried about his heart rate, or really over planning out his nutrition. He just went out there and rode. He rode hard since it was going to be a good workout but he just went out there and just kind of reminded him why he was doing this, the love of outdoors and being up in the mountains and whatever. And not only did he absolutely enjoy his ride, for the first time in a year and a half, he had his best time for that distance. He let go of the time, and he just allowed his body and his enjoyment come back to him and it works. So I say that one is anecdote, but two to just remind people what we are talking about here. It’s not an either/or. It’s not a choice. It’s not a choice where to go on. Yea, of course I want it to be fun, but man, I want to be the best I can be. I am an achiever. I’m out there and I want to push myself. I want to win this race. And it has to be serious. Well, it’s not an either/or, it can be both. You look at a guy outside of triathlon and you look at a guy with the same boat. In the spring time you are a sprinter. That guys having alot of fun. Under eminence pressure but how playful he is at the start line, how playful is he at the end of the race. I really admire him for that because it really shows people that you can be the best in the world, the fastest man of all time, and have fun doing it. That comes down to a personal choice on how you approach it.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. Now, what about someone who’s kind of already competed alittle bit and wants to take their races to the next level, can you give us three steps that someone can take to get there for the mental side?
Chris: The first step of that one is you got to get clear. You got to get clear in what you are trying to achieve. What does success look like for you. This applies to all aspects of your life but specifically for triathlon. So many people are putting in lots and lots and lots of effort, they finish the race and they kind of say “that was alright, yea?” They don’t know what success looks like. They haven’t defined it well enough. So the first thing if you are really trying to take your game to the next level, you got to get clear on what that means. And you can define that in alot of different ways. You can define that in terms of hard data, in terms of your time over a certain distance, or your placing, your ranking or age group perhaps or if not in the overall race. You can define it in subjective terms as well, how I want to feel at the end of that race. I was working with someone preparing for the world championships last year, in Budapest, and it was we had a chat the night before the race that he made clear that at the end of that race. And one of his outcomes is that he wanted to beat his biggest nemesis. Being trailing with this guy around in all these different races and he realized that was the main motivator for him and we got clear on that. Now we had someone straight in his eyesight of what he is really trying to achieve. And the second thing was that he wanted to feel because this is the world championship, this is the last race of the season. He wanted to feel as he crossed the finish line that he gave it everything that he left everything on the course. He didn’t want to be able to; he wanted to be basically collapsing when he got to finish line, because he wanted to give it everything he possibly could. And by getting clear, just literally, just twelve hours before the race it finally dawned on him about what it really was about. He was able to go up there and be able to do it. He beat his nemesis, he had his best performance ever, he finished 5th in the world. So getting clear is really is important. And I got a free download in my website on triathletemind.com the book eight and a half steps to a best triathlon year ever. And that’s something the listener can go on and download really get this design to help you get clear on what you are really after. Go through some specific goal setting but also get you to reflect on what’s working for you and what’s not. So I really encourage the listener to go on and take a look at that. So that’s the first thing..
Kevin: So that wraps up part 1 of my interview with Chris Jensen. Now if you want to hear the entire interview including part 2, you can join as a member of TriSwimSecrets by going to TriSwimSecrets.com or efficienttriathlete.com. And if you want more information about Chris’ services and his products, you can go to his website at Triathletemind.com. Thanks for listening everyone and have a good week of training.
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