Self-Awareness - the 5th Discipline

This article is about the significance of self-awareness, which can be considered the "5th discipline" of a triathlon to master. Becoming more self-aware may not seem important, but as you'll see there are lots of little things you can do that will greatly enhance your race attitude and ability to push just a little harder.

Introduction to the 5th Discipline

To most people, a triathlon has 3 disciplines, being swimming, cycling, and running. In our Transition - the 4th Discipline article, we explain that transition skills are part of the race too, however there is one more skill that is just as important as the others, but often overlooked by beginner athletes.

The "fifth discipline" refers to your own self belief and self awareness and is probably the single most significant part of the race for most competitive athletes but there's no reason you shouldn't take note of this one too.

The concept of Self Awareness can be an everyday element to training but is especially critical to racing. When you think you can do it, you will do it. For the most part that is called reaffirmation, an essential element in the mental preparation for any triathlon event. This physically demanding sport mandates that you have a positive attitude to achieve success. Your first objective is to overcome all the negatives you mind will throw up at you as you attempt to push your limits. Replace all the ‘I can’t’ or ‘this is really tough’ with ‘I can’ and ‘I will.’ This will make your body feel better as positive thoughts and energy bring about motivation. Some people are better at this than others but with practice, you can learn to achieve a positive outlook and with experience of breakthrough sessions you can extend your tolerance of pain levels and learn to maintain that positive outlook for longer, ie. improve your mental endurance.

Self-awareness also means that you listen to your body and respond appropriately. Knowing when to take it easy, without feeling guilty is something that many A-type personalities (the type that you no doubt are) have trouble doing but this is the single most likely reason that so many triathletes end up injured. Avoiding injury is critical, yet much of it comes from not heeding the warning signs of over-training. Be kind to yourself and make an honest assessment when you don't feel right. Missed training sessions can actually benefit you in certain situations - you are not a machine. See more articles in our Injury & Recovery section for more reading on this important subject.

Self-awareness and EQ

The ability to be self-aware will help you cope with the pressures of endurance racing. As you begin to race harder, your body needs to be in tune to maintain your best pace and send the right signals in case of any pain, need for hydration, food, change in momentum or posture and more. To become self-aware, you need to have a great degree of emotional intelligence. Your "emotional quotient" is one of the most important elements that can help you perform at your peak. As you learn to control your emotions, you will know when to pull back when you cross the threshold of pain or move at a faster pace, when you have the ability to do so.

Your mental fortitude and strength is put to the test not only during a race but throughout your training as well. This requires your mind and body to be in harmony all through the year. The difference between finishing and becoming a DNF statistic in a race is very often in your head, so to speak. While some triathletes may be better at self-awareness and have the right mental skills, others may not be so well-versed and therefore need to train their mind, much like the rest of their body. All it takes is to develop mental strength and conditioning skills to become a well-rounded triathlete.

Motivation + self-awareness = Yoga

Motivation is one of the great results you'll gain from achieving self-awareness. This is the first step towards readying your mind and body for competition. When your mind and body are in complete sync you can expect to perform to your best. One of the best methods for finding motivation and self-awareness is the practice of yoga. Practicing yoga can bring about stability, flexibility, and also helps with recovery and injury prevention. In addition, meditation, which is an essential component in the practise of yoga, helps to condition the mind.

Yoga helps create balance while you improve your core strength. Breathing exercises, which is one of the fundamentals of yoga, helps with the mind-body connection. You learn to stay focused and concentrate on deep inhales and exhales. This not only clears the mind but helps increase your stamina during workouts or when racing. One or two sessions of yoga per week can make you better self-aware.

To implement yoga breathing techniques during workouts, make sure you leave your iPod at home. The objective is to focus on breathing and watch out for signals your body may be sending out. Music is a distraction in this case and you won’t feel the mind and body connect as you should.

Use the right gadgets

You need to monitor your body’s capabilities which is best achieved with the help of a heart rate monitor (HRM), swimming computer, a pace calculator, and more. For triathletes, the ideal tool is a water-proof computer HRM with GPS and optional cadence sensors for your bike, and shoe (for running). There are a few brands around, but the Garmin models tend to be the most popular with this group of athletes, coming in at under $400. Using these tools and analysing the data after your workouts will help you determine whether or when you are performing at your optimum. Some models include an integrated website console to help you store, manage and analyse all your workouts and these programs also enable you to manually add incidental notes which you should get in the habit of using. You'll be surprised how invaluable small notations such as recording how you feel after or during a session. The purpose of using these gadgets is that they are tools to help you develop instinctive knowledge of your pace. You'll get to a stage fairly quickly, where for example, you'll know exactly what pace you are running at without even looking at the output on your computer.

There have been many programs developed by top triathlon coaches that focus on using heart rate as a guage to training intensities. By setting your HRM computer to show HR in terms of HRMax% you will develop how you feel when you reach your lactic threshold, the critical element of triathlon is to be in tune with this feeling as this enables you to hold your optimum pace with without blowing up.

Train with other triathletes

While you may train solo often, it is prudent to involve training sessions with others. This is a good way to judge your responses and performance against competition. Compare their levels of speed, motivation and other related issues. Make a note of how you respond to training in the company of others as against training solo. This is a great way to become more self-aware!

Joining a triathlon club is the ideal way to find training partners. To see a list of triathlon clubs in your area, you can refer to the Clubs tab at the top of this website. Here you'll find a list of every triathlon club in Australia (as per the Triathlon Australia list). We've included a link to their websites to help you with your enquiries.

Keep a training diary

I've already mentioned this in the section above if using an online workout download website that allows you add incidental notes, but if you prefer to write notes in a book, then a training diary is a must. Pen your emotions before and after every training session. Document a few other events in your life and the way you respond to different stimuli. You may find a pattern in these documentations that could help you become a better performer.

More than just logical motivators

While improving your health is a good example of being motivated to indulge in endurance racing, there are many emotional factors involved. Often, the main reason is that you can prove something to yourself. The answers you can find when you are self-aware include your true capabilities to be a competitive triathlete, whether you are extremely focused or not, how much you can do to better yourself, and more. For some people however, there are much less selfless motivators, such as doing it for a person who is sick, for a worthwhile charity, or for a loved one that is disabled/injured. In these cases, the motivation is gratitude and thanks for having a body that is healthy and fit enough to do what others cannot.

Naturally, you would want to prove that your body is getting better with each passing day and race whatever your motivators so monitoring improvements to your pace in each discipline, as well as your recovery, and body image, goes with the territory.

Make a race report

After every important race do make it a point to write a race report. This is best accomplished during rest and recovery. The first thing is to analyse your performance from every aspect. This includes pace, areas of weakness, your transition performance, nutrition and hydration. Make a report of what worked best for you during the race and what didn’t. Ascertain whether you achieved your goal or how close or far you were from achieving it. The important thing is to be realistic. Crossing the finishing line first may be the dream of every triathlete but what is most important is finishing the race. Set your next goal based on your analysis of past performance to avoid discouragement and to reward yourself for gains made.

Next, after making your personal assessment is to be proud of it - pride is not a sin in the sport of triathlon. It is simply a critical stage in the self-awareness process. By making a public statement about your race you are allowing yourself to accept the outcome - whether it was a PB or a less than steller performance.

On TriathlonOz, you can write your public report in our Blogs section. Simply write up your thoughts, upload some photos, even share your results if you wish. These Blogs make for very inspirational reading for other triathletes who don't judge you like you might. You can control who has access to your Blogs, although the default is set to allow all TriathlonOz audiences to leave you a comment. Social networking via athlete blogs of age-group triathletes can be fun, rewarding and inspirational so we encourage you to give it a go. If you have a Facebook Profile, be sure to use the login via Facebook option for your Blogs to automatically post to your FB page. If you forget, you can always use the Facebook share button you'll see in your Blog. NOTE: to be able to write your own Blogs, you need to have a Member Profile. Buy your annual Membership in our Shop. Currently reduced from $29.95, to just $19.95 (read the Personal Membership article to see all the other benefits).

Keep moving forward

There will be several instances where you experience disappointments in competition. Self-awareness can help you handle these issues much better. The key is to move forward with the conviction that the hard times will pass. You will be surprised at how soon your mental or physical anguish can subside, if you keep track of the goal and be realistic. Sometimes you need to reassess the goal, particuarly if you cannot overcome an injury. The key is to commit to yourself.

Much of your efforts at becoming more self-aware can be better achieved by doing away with negative self talk. The first step to changing your behaviour is recognising these thoughts and getting rid of them. Most importantly, enjoy the entire process and be proud about all the efforts you make to better yourself. Race day will be an entirely different experience when you learn to do so.

Self-awareness is what will get you through the tough times and enhance your performance. No matter what motivates you to race, you need to be conscious of using these strategies when you train and in racing, to reach your potential.

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Created: November 2012
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