Thursday, August 14, 2014


One of the nice things about competing in triathlons is the variety you experience from swimming, biking and running.  It’s a nice mix of aerobic activity that also provides the challenge of mastering all three disciplines.

Like most triathletes, the swim is not only the weakest sport of the three; it is the one that can cause the most angst and emotional stress. Swimming is a very technical sport and with the added drag of the water, even small flaws in technique can have a huge negative impact on efficiency in the water. Add to this swimming in open water with several hundred our thousand other triathletes and the mental part of the sport can make the difference between success and not completing a race.

Recently May and I visited a swim coach to help us improve our swimming since we are both active triathletes and one can never have too much coaching!  While there were many things that were interesting and impressive our about our new coach, what intrigued us the most was how she began our session. She didn’t ask about our technique, strengths or weaknesses, she began the session talking about the mental aspects to swimming, in particular in open water triathlons and provided us a set of mental tools we can use should the need arise.

Swimming is not the only sport that can cause mental stress and impede performance. While swimming in the unknown can frighten many people, I have known folks that have an equal fear of riding their bike or running in the dark or in cold weather.

The tools she provided are very simple to apply and can be used for any sport or life situation and I simply call them “the Rainbow.”  There are three mental states a person can be in defined as GREEN – Stress Free, YELLOW – Stressful and anxious feelings, and RED – Extremely stressful and all out panic. Your goal is to always be in a Green state and should you move to yellow or red, you need find your way back to green.

In the green state you are stress free and all is well. This is likened to “The Zone” where you can function at your best and without thought. This is the ideal state. Spend some time thinking about what this feels like and make mental notes of your performance while green.

In the yellow state, you begin to feel uncomfortable or stressful. This may right before the swim start at triathlon or if you get bumped in the water in an open water swim.  To help back to green have some “yellow card” thoughts such as recalling your best race ever, remembering your best swim, bike or run and the best comeback from an adverse situation.

In the red state, you are in an all-out panic. Timing here is critical as the body’s fight or flight mechanism will take over quickly.  To move back to green you need some “red card” thoughts such as thinking of your dearest family members, your most memorable personal achievement or a moment you changed someone’s life for the better.

By understanding what the green state feels like and creating yellow card and red card thoughts you can practice these emotion changers daily so you can easily call on them when the need arises.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Group Exercise Instructor and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

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