It’s five seconds before a race is about to start. Your feet are brushing the cold water, glued to the shore. Your breathing intensifies. Your hand is crossed over, touching your watch about to hit “start” so that you can stare at your wonderful splits throughout the course of the day (haha). But after the gun goes off – when your body mixes into the crisp, cool water and your arms begin to stroke furiously – what happens next?
“What do you even think about for that long?” is a question commonly asked to triathletes by those outside the swim, bike, and run world. To many, it seems unfathomable, almost irrational, that one could “enjoy” an endurance event ranging in time from one to seventeen hours (from sprint to Ironman).
The answer to this is a bit more complex than one might think.
When your body is pushed to the brink, ready to give out – when muscle soreness and levels of exhaustion are so high that the finish line seems a distant dream – sure, it can become difficult to keep going. But it’s the mind that takes over in these instances. The blankness.
You can’t exactly shut off your thoughts and your brain as a whole during a triathlon. So, in reality, all the triathletes panting around the course have to be thinking about something, right? Something to keep them going?
For me, a sort of blankness sets in. A tunnel vision. A sort of blanket wraps itself around my mind, transforming my pattern of thought.
Sometimes, I’m so focused on the course ahead of me – swimming around the orange buoy, dodging some glass on the road, or trying to pass someone on the run – that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is running through my mind. More like a state of blankness.
But, realistically, this complete blankness and tunnel vision cannot continue for the entire duration of the race. So, what’s next? What could possibly be getting all of the triathletes in these races through such arduous courses and long miles?
A great deal of it is your personal competitive and racing impetus. What drives you to go faster?
For me, when my mind is unable to seep into that “blankness” mode completely; when it is hungry for real, salient thoughts, I channel my personal motivators. The things that anger me – the people with whom I’ve had differences or wish I could change things with, events in life I wish I could alter – certainly help in driving me through various points in the course where my mental acuity seems to be waning. When all else fails, I turn to happier motivators, like the people and things in life that I love and for which I am thankful. With memories and feelings seeping through my body, I find that extra something to push.
It’s this stream of blankness mixed with pulses of motivational thought that bring us from dolphin diving to start the swim to putting that last foot across the finish line. Sometimes, this pattern repeats itself for hours on end. But it’s this mental aspect of triathlon; the ability for individuals to constantly overcome the negative voice in the back of the mind and conquer it with motivational thought throughout hours and hours of tireless competition, that is part of what makes this sport so great.
What do you think about when you tri?