Imagine yourself approaching the starting line of your first triathlon. The sun is emerging over the eastern horizon. You are in the company of thousands of women who look like experienced triathletes. They are dressed to the nines. They are engaged in their pre-race rituals: racking their bikes, setting up their transition areas, taking off their sweats, and getting their swim gear together. These triathletes are calm and confident when they walk down to join their wave. They all look like they know what they are doing, and you feel like you are the only one who is scared, nervous, or anxious. Well, guess what? You are not the only one!
Few emotions are more hardwired into the human psyche than fear. It’s normal. It’s a good thing it keeps us alive. But fear can be paralyzing, especially the fear of doing something for the first time, such as doing your first triathlon. Fears about the triathlon can feel like a big, tangled-up mess, because it’s often not just one fear, but several. You’ve got fear of the swim, fear of the bike, fear of the run, and fear of the transition. You’ve got fears about your endurance, fears about injury, fear that people will laugh at your less-than-perfect physique, and, yes, one more fear the fear of being the last one to finish.
We at the Urgent Care Fear Clinic (UCFC) know all about fear, and we’re here to help. The UCFC was created by Heart Zones® to provide a safe haven and the important tools for you to learn to overcome triathlon fear. “Knowing that your fear of triathlon is not just one thing, but several, helps us to treat excessive or inappropriate fear, says Cindy Miller, National Coach of Heart Zones Personal Coaching for the Danskin. Cindy readily admits that the best medicine that the UCFC can provide to overcome the paralysis of triathlon fear is training, but equally important is courage.
For example, imagine it’s the day before the triathlon. You are in the grips of triathlon fear, so what do you do? You begin by breaking the triathlon down into its three parts.
The Fear of Swimming
So many thoughts can add up to a fear of swimming in the triathlon:
- It’s too crowded for me.
- I might get kicked.
- I have the wrong shape and size body.
- I can’t swim a straight line.
- I can’t swim that far.
- I’ll need help from the water safety volunteers.
Triathlon expert Joy Hermsen, the Director of the Heart Zones Training Programs, the official training programs of the Danskin Triathlon, and herself a client of the UCFC, says, “When you go to the starting line, Sally Edwards is there to give every single woman a good luck high five. She told me as I took a double-high five that I could do it. With her encouragement, I believed my mantra, I am a great swimmer.
The Fear of Cycling
You are not the only one who began Danskin training not knowing how to shift gears, do a U-turn, or ride up a hill without getting off your bike. Maybe your inner voice of self-doubt has been reciting negative statements such as “my bike isn’t good enough; I might run into another cyclist; I might fall. One of the best ways to overcome these negative thoughts is to reframe them into positive ones, such as “my bike is good enough for today.” With more practice and with the help of friends and coaches, you will gain more confidence on the bike.
The Fear of Running
“How am I going to be able to run-walk after a swim and a bike ride? In fact, almost all triathletes have experienced this fear of cumulative fatigue, the sum of the exhaustion of the ½-mile swim added to the energy cost of the 12-mile bike ride. Then, add the other fears related to running too slow, I’ll be the only one walking, I feel stupid when I run, my friends will be there and they will see me tired and the weight of these fears can deplete even more of your energy. And, yet, 180,000 women have stared down their fears about finishing the run, and you can, too!
Don’t Worry about Things that Don’t Happen
You have learned in your triathlon training that you can do the distances, you have practiced the skills of the three sports, and you know that others around you are also new to triathlon and they are having the same feelings as you. Maggie Sullivan, the Danskin Women’s Triathlon Series Director, is aware of the trepidation that some women feel before and during the Danskin and she says, “This is the 17th year for the Danskin Triathlon, over 180,000 women have crossed the finish line of the Danskin and if they can do it, you can do it. They overcame their fear and anxiety; knowing that they could do it should help you in knowing that you can do it, too.
How to Overcome Triathlon Fear
The Urgent Care Fear Clinic has a set of guidelines for you to follow to help you overcome your pre-race jitters. Try one or more of these remedies:
- Select a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat in your head that blocks any negative thoughts you might have during the race. Popular triathlon mantras are positive affirmations such as, “I am a strong swimmer I am a strong cyclist I am a strong runner. As your hand enters the water, your foot pushes down on the pedal, and your heel strikes the pavement, the only thing that goes through your mind is your mantra.
- Visualize letting go of the fear. See fear as a holdover from something in your past experience and visualize it as a helium-filled balloon. You might have been holding on to the balloon for a long time; maybe the balloon’s string has been tied to your wrist since you were a small child. Now is the time to let it go. With pomp-and-circumstance worthy of such a momentous occasion, release the fear balloon. Watch it sail away up, up, smaller and smaller, until it vanishes in the vastness of the sky.
- Embrace the new you, a person with AOA. AOA, Adult Onset of Athleticism, is a condition that results from your acceptance of a new definition of athlete anyone who trains for a triathlon. We are all born athletes, but sometimes negative experiences or unkind words lead us to become less active. When you replace your old self-image of being less fit with a new self-image of being a competent swimmer, cyclist, runner, and yes, triathlete, then you know you have a chronic case of AOA. And, that’s a good thing to have!
Courageous Women Do the Danskin
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being able to act in the face of fear. By doing the Danskin, you are performing an act of courage. According to the UCFC staff of 30 Heart Zones Team Danskin Training head-coaches and all of the training programs offered through the Heart Zones Training Center, “If you can train for and finish the Danskin, you can do anything in your life. You have turned on the switch of courage to becoming a triathlete. As the Danskin motivational poster says, “The woman who starts the Danskin is the not the same as the woman who finishes. (A $15 donation to Team Survivor gets you a poster; go to www.teamsurvivor.org.)
Need a little courage therapy? Look at your fears objectively, tell others about them, and look at the statistics: 180,000 women have finished the highest quality race in the world. Sure, fear will pop up now and then before and during the race, but you have the tools, the ability and the courage to stare it down and overcome it. Breathe, repeat your mantras of positive affirmation, and slowly, stroke by stroke, revolution by revolution, and step by step, you, too, will cross the finish line and be able to say, “I finished the Danskin. I am a triathlete.
Sally Edwards, Heart Zones Blogger