It was Vince Lombardi that said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

I’ve spoken about how a triathlon beginner’s mental state can affect his physical performance, and why we want to practice good mental toughness principles every day that we train.  What I haven’t touched upon, is how this relationship can work both ways.  

You see, if weak thoughts can make our body weak and tired, then is it also possible that a body that is weak and tired from exertion and physical strain, can make our thoughts weak?  Do you think so, Vince Lombardi thought so.  

Let’s analyse what he said … “Fatigue makes cowards …”  What is a coward but someone who pulls up stakes and retreats, a quitter, a non competitor… Yuck!  Hang on a second, I have to spit.  Nothing less admirable in an athlete that cowardice.  Athletes respect both the winners and the losers, but never the quitter.  

Commander Warf, the big brown Klingon in Star Trek, once said (in a really deep voice), “There is no shame in falling before a superior opponent.” Right on my Klingon brother!  Preach it.

Our sense of compete is really the one and only thing that drives us forward.  Without that sense of compete, our inner drive turns to driving Miss Daisy.  Lombardi, perhaps the most inspirational coach to ever prowl a sideline, gave us both words of warning, as well as a formula for developing the heart of a lion.

The warning is this, in states of exhaustion, we can ALL become cowards and start looking for the way out, so we better expect it, and make ourselves ready for it.  

The heart of a lion formula is this, if we can face our cowardice and push through, we can become truly tough.  The beautiful thing about it is that pushing into fatigue is all we need to challenge our own fears and chisel away the cowardly responses ensconsed in our mortal souls (much easier than fighting dragons).

Beautiful isn’t it.

As a triathlon beginner, we will be facing our limitations every day in training, and sometimes we might ask ourselves why we do it.  Well, here is the answer.  Stay strong.

Don’t get Tire – ed!

So you remember the post on triathlon mental toughness and dissecting a champion triathletes brain?  Well, it’s time for more on that topic.  Not dissecting, but mental toughness…

Both modern scientists and ancient warriors have agreed that personal toughness, or resilience is closly linked to physical conditioning.  This seems strange to many people, including triathlon beginners.  Where one pursuit seems to be all in the mind, and the other seems to be all in the body, it is in fact not true.  When you race, your will races with you, and at times your will races FOR you … Cuz your damn legs sure won’t.

How do we build this undefeatable will?  Well would you believe that physical conditioning is one of the primary ways?  In this sense, triathletes are made to be tough, and training for a tri is a great pathway to toughness.  

If you remember, toughness is about achieving a sense of mental poise that we call achieving I.P.S or ideal performance state.  This would imply ideal arousal level, focus, resting of focus, and emotional control.  We need this to drown out fear of failure and our own sense of quit that offers the temptation of making our lives easier.  With every step it is offered and every turn of the pedal. 

 I.P.S is about seeing challenges as enjoyable obstacles.  Obstacles that merely make life worthy of the untamed caveman or cavelady inside of us.  I.P.S is about “bring it on” and “no fear” and “just do it” and almost every other sport product slogan ever concieved, all rolled into one!

When you learn I.P.S you can start to win.  You don’t need to be angry to push yourself past your barriers anymore, and your feet fly with the exhilaration that competition fuels us with.  Bring on the competition!  Bring on the fear, so I can squish it!  

This will carry you right up until the point where you are ready to achieve the very goal that you dream of.  The point where your fingers are almost brushing up against your dream and it’s a real possibility to grasp it.  At that point you are so very close … and without meaning to be dramatic, you are, in truth, so far…


Because of your self image.  Because of the importance of the goal to you.  Because you’ve looked at others who have achieved that goal (your role models), and felt that they were special.  Having spent month after month admiring the accomplishments of people who have achieved what you really want, it has built the sport psychology equivalent of a brick wall in your mind.  

At the very moment that you have earned the right to compete at the level that you most desire, (and for you, in that moment, the stakes are at their highest) the malignant thoughts of Wayne and Garth creep into our subconscious with a silent scream of “We’re not worthy!”. At that point, the long list of triumphs that we’ve accumulated in coming to that point– Stop … And are followed by the most collosal CHOKE that the world of sport has ever seen.  

The spectators all mutter their armchair comments … “Good athlete, but they choke when it really matters.”  The inability of the athlete to cut the mustard can then follow him like a stigma until one day, the only place where they feel any sense of self worth is at a Star Trek convention.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the truth is, this can be devastating.  The lesson here is that our accomplishments can only grow as large as our self esteem will allow.  If you believe that you have all the skills and athleticism to play pro hockey, but still see the NHL’ers  as members of an elite and exclusive club for superior people, I would bet that your career will not be spent in the NHL.

Give yourself permission to be as good as your role models, and give your role models permission to be as human as you are.  We are all just athletes that pour our hearts, souls, and will’s into what we do, and we accept the commendations that come with it … But not too proudly, because we know that our trophies are no more than:

Training + Heart  + Dedication over time = Success… Guaranteed… (for you anyways)

Someday I’ll share with you my choking experience, and if you want, feel free to make a comment on yours.  

…Live long and Prosper…

Remember, it isn’t CUTE to choke…



This entry is really a further exploration of what components go into triathlon toughness and why that might matter.  I liked cadaver lab in university as much as the next guy, so I figured, why not dissect the triathlon champion’s brain and see what’s squirming around in there.

First, I’ll tell you why being triathlon tough matters.  That’s the easiest one.  Quite simply, your mental state will determine 100% of your actions, and your actions determine the result that you get.  Your goals are real.  They are real and they are important, for individual reasons, but we must first recognize the validity of our athletic pursuit.  If we don’t give our goal validity in our minds, then we will invariably short change ourselves due to the busyness of our lives and the formidable disciplines of succeeding in our chosen sport.

Without a goal that we commit to, and a strong sense of who we are as people acting out the habit of success, we are literally dead in the water (or the road, or on the bike).  We cannot succeed without it, instead we make conscious or unconscious excuses, which sport psychologists call tanking.  

Tanking is a sign of mental weakness.  It will steal your dreams.

Instead, an athlete should try to achieve what is called an Ideal Performance State or (I.P.S).  What is an IPS.?  Well that depends on the sport and a little bit about who you are as a person.  It can be very individual what mindset each athlete needs in order to achieve their best performance, but there are commonalities.

As a triathlon beginner, just think of ideal performance state as a mindset of really fun competetive challenge.  Here’s the basic reasoning for that …  it is the only thing that will work!

The only thing?  How could I say that?  Easy. Here’s why.  The thing that makes us go goofy when we pit ourselves against a challenge is called “competition stress,” and competition stress is closely related to fear.  Fear of what?  Sadly, it’s usually fear of failure.

The first way that an athlete learns to overcome the crippling weakness and exaustion brought on by fear, is by using anger, if you can believe that.  Anger drowns out fear allowing people to “dig deep,” get angry, and find new strength, but that strength is not sustainable.  When you dissect a champions brain, heart, and mind, you will not find anger.  Instead you will find a whole lotta really fun competetive challenge.

More about that later, along with the rest of the blueprint for a triathlon beginner to be competition tough.


**photo above by Tom Devard