What to you is resilience? To Tim Don, it’s “grit”; to sports psychologist Vic Thompson, it’s “one’s ability to manage challenges”; to Ross Edgley, it’s coping with a decomposing tongue during The Great British Swim. That’s extreme, but Edgley’s resilience is legendary – so much so that he’s devoted an entire book to it, The Art of Resilience (see the current issue of 220, out now, for more).
“It’s a direct quote from the book but, to me, resilience is suffering strategically managed,” says Edgley. “Running with a pebble in your shoe, for instance, isn’t resilience – it’s stupid. Resilience is proficiently managing progress in both training and racing.”
Which is all well and good, but how do you forge a mindset that’ll not only cope with cancelled races, but also absorb pain deep into your next race (whenever that may be)? “It’s about raising your triathlon IQ,” Edgley explains.
“It’s knowing when to dip into anaerobic reserves sparingly so as not to bonk; it’s about having a well-planned nutrition strategy as resilience struggles when hungry; it’s about eating the right foods to make your immune system more resilient; and it’s about interval training, as studies show this is the best training to build mental and physical resilience.”
Four key questions
To Josie Perry, it’s about asking yourself four key questions: what you’ve learnt from lockdown; what you’ve missed; what you haven’t missed; and how lockdown has made you stronger. “Resilience is very personal but your answers to these will shape your future,” she says. “If, for instance, you’ve nailed every run and turbo session without fail, it shows that even under stress, you’re dedicated to what you’re doing. If like me you’ve realised you love the social side of racing but not the competition itself, then maybe you should do more Parkruns instead. I’d set yourself one of these questions every time you head out for a run, as our brains are more creative when running.”
Perry also says that lockdown has given triathletes a chance to look beyond their athletic identity; to bake, craft or draw. “This’ll hold you in good stead the next time you’re injured,” Perry says. “You’ll have another activity to turn to and ease the stress.” That activity should feature mindfulness according to Dr Martin Paulus, a member of the Laureate Institute For Brain Research. “We’ve found that mindfulness training helps you to train the same resilient areas of the brain that are so strong in not only elite athletes but top military, like Navy Seals,” Paulus says.
“It helps individuals and athletes become more aware of feelings and learn to temper their reactions to them. That’s useful because studies have shown that non-resilient people simply don’t pay attention to their body’s signals.”
Perform under stress
Paulus and his team at the University of California discovered that this Buddhist teaching improves cognitive performance during stressful situations, leading you to make better decisions. “That helps when deciding whether to have an energy drink, or increase or decrease pace,” he says. If you’re looking to take this moment of self-reflective resilience to a further empirical level, you can complete a mental toughness questionnaire to spot – and work on – any gaps in your psychological armoury.
The MTQ48 assessment is a popular tool to measure mindset based on four scales It’s not necessarily sports specific but, as you can see from the four Cs listed below, it does measure traits that are important to triathlon performance. These four Cs break down as…
This means having a sense of self-worth and describes the degree to which an individual feels in control of their life and circumstances. A mentally tough triathlete with high control will usually just crack on with it, no matter how they feel and work calmly through emotionally-charged situations.
This boils down to goal orientation and ‘stickability’. A mentally tough triathlete with high commitment can usually be relied upon to set goals and do everything they can to achieve them.
Relates to the lengths individuals will go to in search of breaking their boundaries. Mentally tough triathletes see challenges as opportunities and relish the chance to learn and grow.
The self-belief an individual has in their own abilities. Even if they don’t parade it outwardly, a mentally tough triathlete will score high in confidence and draw the inner strength to deal competently with most situations.
The MTQ48 assessment costs £54 and can be found at aqrinternational.co.uk