Mental preparation is an often overlooked part of triathlon. Will Clarke provides some tips on how to utilise some of the techniques he’s picked up during his years in triathlon.

Sports psychology and mental preparation is overlooked by a large percentage of people involved in triathlon and sports in general. I think most people would dismiss it, sighting better ways to use their time, like for example actually doing enough training in the first place to do a good job on race day.

I’d agree with that to a certain extent, training has to be the primary focus, but as a regular client of a really good sports psychologist from Belgium, my eyes have been opened even more than before and I’d say that most people don’t understand the benefits that mental preparation can give you.

Most people don’t understand the benefits that mental preparation can give you.
-Will Clarke

Triathlon is a complicated sport. I’ve been in the sport for so many years now and the amount of very talented people I’ve trained with over the years who get to race day and don’t deliver is crazy. The right way round to do it, of course, is to exceed yourself in racing, not the other way around. I’m not an expert yet, however I’ll share some of the strategies that I use that have worked for me.

Build a structure

Coming into a race, have a structure in place with everything planned out on paper. What you need to pack, the schedule for the weekend with timings included, how you want the race to pan out.

Jot down your targets and any thoughts that come into your mind, and remember, it doesn’t matter how messy that piece of paper is, it will do you wonders for having everything planned out in your mind.


I like to do this the evening before my race. I close my eyes about an hour before I want to go to bed, not before I sleep because I’ll either pass out asleep and not actually do it, or I’ll get myself worked up thinking of the race I won’t be able to sleep!

Picture the race in as much detail as you can focussing harder on the bits that perhaps stress you the most, for example that sharp turn at the bottom of a descent or the first swim turn. This way you’ve already been there in your head before you even start the race. Most important, imagine yourself being successful!

Self affirmation

You know those athletes that are mega confident? Too cocky almost? Well that is the attitude that you need to acquire, you have to be able to believe in yourself if you want to be successful. So use a lot of self affirmation and keywords and phrases.

Your friends may not give you the pleasure of using these words and phrases around you, but your partner or your parents might. “You are strong!”, "You are so fast, remember all those crazy training sessions you did?”, “you are good enough to win this!”. If you (or others) say it enough you will believe it!

Exercising the creative side

To race well you need to be able to be creative. To do this you should exercise regularly the creative side of your brain!

Drawing pictures of what made you happy today is the perfect practice for this. So sit down in your taper weeks and start doodling! Just don’t leave it lying around at work as your colleagues may think you’ve lost the plot!

Good luck and I hope you all exceed your expectations in races this year.

Picture credit: Hans Christiansson /