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Triathlon training is a great stress beater, but sometimes the strain of life and work can affect your sport. Sport psychologist and age-grouper Dr Victor Thompson shows you how to strike a balance

Wouldn’t it be ideal for tri training if we all lived beside a big empty training pool, with plenty of flat and hilly bike routes and lots of off-road run trails nearby. The weather would be warm and the food would be great. Oh, and we wouldn’t have to go to work each day.

Unfortunately, our lives aren’t like this. We lead complicated lives full of daily hassles. This places physical and psychological stress on us, which can have a significant impact on training and performance.

The problemBeat stress with triathlon training

There are two types of stress: physical and psychological. The physical is what we target in training through swimming, cycling and running. By doing so, we hope that our body absorbs the training and reacts by making us fitter and faster. Outside training, our lives  have other sources of stress that need to be absorbed, but this takes energy and uses up our vital resources. The greater the stress we experience outside our training, the less energy we have left to cope with training, so it’s important to remove as much stress as possible in our daily lives.

The causes

Physical stress in our day comes from sitting at a desk for a long time, standing on our feet all day, doing a physically demanding job or doing DIY projects that our body isn’t used to.

Psychological stress comes from commuting or business travel, deadlines and targets, or when we have difficult relationships with colleagues and people at home that play on our mind.

This background can then make it difficult to sleep, so we struggle to fully recover from training. It can be difficult to get hold of the right foods during the day, or we make unhealthy choices and perhaps wash it all down with a little more alcohol than we should. All of this makes dealing with life’s physical and psychological stress more challenging. The result is that we have less energy, vigour, motivation and capacity to train and race. If we were a car, this would be like starting our sessions with a half-empty fuel tank. This makes improvements from training slow, and race results poor.

How to reduce stress

Try these exercises for off-loading the pressures of the day

1 Create a transition from your source of stress: if it’s work that’s causing you stress, introduce a stress-busting routine for when you leave work. Just before you leave make a note of what you want to tackle tomorrow, so you don’t have to bear it in mind all night. Then, as you switch off your computer, grab your bag or close the door, say to yourself: “I’m leaving all this behind until tomorrow”, “I’m going to think about what I want this evening”. This gives you permission to leave work stuff at work. The same principle works for leaving home stress at home.

2. De-stress your thinking. Become aware of when you use pressure-inducing thoughts such as “I must…”, “I need to…”, “I have to…”, “I should…”. These only increase the pressure and stress you experience. Instead, when they appear, question whether you REALLY must, have to, need to or should do these things. If not, tone down the statement that goes through your mind. Or, if you DO have to, need to, etc, then say to yourself instead: “I will…”, “I want to…” and remind yourself that it will be fine and doable, with no need to worry about it.

Dr Victor Thompson is a qualified clinical sport psychologist and Ironman triathlete (www.sportspsychologist.co.uk)

[Photo: James Lampard]