Resilience in Triathlon

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

― Nelson Mandela

Triathlon is a tough sport.  Racing is hard, it hurts and many question why they put themselves through races in the first place.  Training and balancing it with the rest of life can be quite challenging.  Throw in injuries, illness and curve balls that life can throw at us, one could ask why do we do it?

Yet the thrill of smashing a training session, having a great race and the endorphins that flow through our body when this happens, we keep going back for more.  While some go back for more, others decide it becomes all too hard and walk away.

What makes one person walk away while another pushes through?  In my experience it is resilience.  I think resilience is a quality that can be developed through training and life, but I also think some people are just naturally more resilient. They are able to weather the ups and downs of not only triathlon but life in general.

We all have our own bag of rocks to carry.  At some point life will present us with challenges, physically and mentally.  No one lives such a charmed life that they can escape this certainty.  What ever these challenges are, we all have them and all have to cope with them.

If you want a long ‘career’ in triathlon then having a level of resilience is vital.  But can resilience be developed to help your triathlon?  I believe so yes.

As a coach I can manipulate training to test and challenge an athlete.  This is known as constraints led coaching. Thrown in a left field scenario during training that an athlete has to respond to.  From a coaching perspective I can observe how resilient an athlete is by the way they respond. Do they give up or find a way to overcome the challenge? Are they resilient?

We can review after the session to discuss how they responded and educate them on better ways to handle it next time. And next time I might make it harder again or I might have to make it easier due to what I think is not having enough resilience to deal with the challenges.  The goal is to challenge athletes not break them.

A person’s life will often determine how much natural resilience they have.  Have they had to grind their way through life or has everything come easy and handed to them on a silver platter?

I’ve coached beginner level athletes with more resilience than elite level athletes. Just because a person is at an elite level physically doesn’t mean they are more resilient.  In fact I’ve been amazed at the resilience of some beginner athletes I’ve worked with.  An amazing ability not to give up and a determination to overcome the challenges placed in front of them.

Yet I’ve seen elite athletes blessed with all the physical talents in the World that have next to no resilience. A person’s resilience has much to do with their life and what other challenges they’ve had to overcome.

If you’re wanting to develop resilience to help your triathlon, here are 3 very simple ways that I believe will help:

  1. Do something uncomfortable every day. For me I take a cold shower every day and in winter this is hard. Before I get under the cold water every time I have to convince myself to do it but once I am under it’s okay. And every day I do it becomes a little easier. Find something that makes you uncomfortable on a daily basis and repeat it.
  2. Take the hard road instead of the easy road when faced with a choice. When ever I am training I make it a priority to go over the hill as opposed to going around it.  It’s harder and hurts more but it develops a little more resilience.
  3. Learn a new skill. This can be anything from learning how to do a flying mount on the bike in transition, learning to do tumble turns in the pool or sighting in the open water.  As long as it is a skill that you find difficult to master. This requires patience as well as resilience.

Through repeating these simple actions they become a habit. It becomes your new normal and when faced with hard training sessions of difficult periods in a race you’ll be better equipped to overcome them through greater level of resilience.

For an example of resilience have a read of my article on paratriathlon and an athlete I coach Gerrard Gosens.

resilience in triathlon

About Mark

Mark is one of Australia's most experienced and knowledgeable triathlon coaches. With over 25 years experience coaching at all levels from kids, youth, adult and elite professional athletes across the World. He loves seeing people change their lives through triathlon.