If there is one thing I am constantly reminding the athletes I coach it is to put the past behind them. This applies to the big picture scenario, as well as to the minute-to-minute process within a race itself.
While it’s important to learn from past mistakes (and successes), it becomes crippling and counterproductive if we dwell on the low points of our past. This may sound like a rather obvious observation, but when I watch athletes repeatedly look to the past (during or after a race, for example), I am repeatedly reminded that we should all set the goal of being better at looking forward.
There is no more symbolic or fitting time to look forward than now—at the first of the year, with last season’s shortcomings and triumphs firmly in the rear view mirror.
I will often take this opportunity to sit with my athletes and discuss what we have learned, but more importantly to clear the slate and begin fresh.
A great plan for us triathletes is to make January 1st the day to begin forming new habits. Rather than set a resolution to run more than last year, to lose weight from last year, or to go faster than last year, I propose setting the goal of focusing forward at every step of the way.
The goals and resolutions should be centered around where you want to arrive, not where you are coming from. Change the mindset and try to run more than you think you can run; buy a pair of jeans that are too small—then make them fit; or push the limits in your races, not setting the goal line based on last year’s times.
Once you have in place the mentality of always looking forward (big picture), you can begin to utilize it more effectively on race day too (minute-to-minute).
In very few ways does the game of golf relate to triathlon; nor do the skills required to play golf translate well to the challenges of Ironman. However, there is one asset that all successful golfers possess that should be staples in every triathletes bag of tricks. And that is the ability to put the past behind them.
When was the last time you saw Tiger Woods hit an eagle, then pat himself on the back for the rest of the tournament? “Hey, I got the eagle on hole 10, now I’m ahead—better coast on in!” And conversely, when was the last time you saw Rory McIlroy shank one into the woods, then just give up on the rest of the day? The valuable asset of forgetting both overwhelmingly good and overwhelmingly bad sets these guys apart.
And triathletes need to hone that same skill. A poor swim, a kick in the face, a choppy sea—none of those things should be on your brain when you leave T1 on the bike. They are done; they are behind you; move on. A personal best; beat your training partner out of the water; made the front pack—big deal, focus on the bike ride you’re now facing. Execute, forget, move on.
While I fully understand that what has happened in the first leg of a triathlon affects how we are physically prepared to handle subsequent legs, I am a big believer that an adjusted, positive, and forward-focused mindset can allow us to overcome, achieve, and realize the goals we set of having a good race—from just finishing to PR.
With regard to the big picture focus, I understand how painful and discouraging a bad race can be. I understand that a DNF can leave lasting marks on the psyche. I understand what it feels like to fall short of a goal on race day. However, I also understand the value of taking valuable lessons from those shortcomings and then closing that chapter of the book. 24 hours after a disappointing race, it’s time to forget it even happened—take the lessons and don’t look back. The book is closed.
Let’s all set the goal of taking the few pearls of wisdom we have obtained through sweat and toil back throughout the course of 2014; but let’s also set the goal, the task, the challenge of not allowing the past to affect the mindset we need to make 2015 our best year yet—on and off the race course.