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Race season is upon us and with its arrival self-effacing talk shows up for many athletes. I often hear rookies and veteran endurance athletes alike say things such as, “I hope I survive the swim,” or “I don’t think I’m going to do very well on race day,” or “I made a lot of mistakes during training so I don’t know how this race will go.” These are prime examples of negative self-talk and when this happens it present an opportunity for endurance athletes to drastically improve their training and racing by improving their mental strength.


Mental strength is the ability to produce consistently at a high level of performance despite challenges, setbacks, and adversity. And mental training is often a part of endurance sports that is neglected. There are multiple facets to mental strength, one of which is positive self-talk.

When you are faced with a challenging workout or race day conditions are less than ideal, what do you say to yourself about yourself? Do the challenges overwhelm you or do you focus on what you can control? When we are placed under pressure in training and racing, we are more susceptible to negative self-talk telling us that we aren’t very good or won’t finish or shouldn’t have started in the first place. These words, although not usually spoken out loud, can bounce around in our heads and impact our performance in training and racing. And if you don’t practice positive self-talk in training, then you are more likely to experience negative self-talk when things get tough.


Tough workouts provide excellent opportunities to improve your headspace before race day - develop short phrases related to each sport or discipline, then repeat these to yourself when you are struggling. For the swim, you can say something like “Stay Smooth” or “Long and Strong.” For the bike, you can say something along the lines of “Pedal circles.” For the run, perhaps you say, “Run strong” or “Stay tall” or “Lift your knees.” And, of course, “You’ve got this!” is a fail-safe phrase at any moment when you feel particularly challenged. Short, second-person phrases like these can provide cues to get you back on track or lift your spirits when the negative self-talk shows up.


Positive self-talk is an important aspect of preparing yourself to race well and actually racing well, no matter the distance. More often than not you will likely be saying these things silently to yourself, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself speaking these affirmations out loud. Who knows? Maybe your verbal self-talk will lift the spirits of another athlete who needs to hear the same thing.


Because mental strength plays such an important role in training and racing, this is a regular topic of conversation at our camps and during the regular communication between athlete and coach. Our goal as Playtri coaches is to help you achieve your goals in a way that is as healthy and well-prepared as possible. We don’t just coach the workouts - we coach the athlete!


Jim Rowe is a Playtri Level 4 Coach, a USAT LI Certified Coach, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer who works with adult athletes of all abilities from beginners to IRONMAN World Championship qualifiers. Learn more about Jim at

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