Mental Training: Pain

This is part 6 of 6 looking into the mental factors discussed in “The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training”. The six factors are motivation, confidence, intensity, focus, emotions, and pain.

Pain can be the ultimate determinant of whether you achieve your goals.

Pain offers a powerful and persistent physical warning to your body that is difficult to ignore. Whether you use pain as an ally to pursue your goals or as an enemy to keep you from realizing them depends on your understanding of pain and whether you can find mastery over it.

Learning to overcome pain was the main reason my wife bought this book for me. I had expressed that I didn’t think I was feeling enough pain during my training and racing – leading me to think that I wasn’t reaching my full potential. What I found out is that what I thought pain would be isn’t what it actually is.

Performance pain is different from injury pain. I was under the false assumption that I was going to feel a pain while training that is similar to the pain you feel when you are injured. Sure, that might sound ridiculous, but that’s what I thought. Performance pain is more of a dull, general pain that pretty much disappears once you stop running, biking or swimming. It’s a pain that can be easily reduced by slowing your pace or stopping. Injury pain is severe and chronic, usually localized and persists after you are done. It’s outside of your control and signals a larger problem.

After making this very important distinction, I realized that I was already experiencing performance pain during lots of training sessions and races. What I learned from this chapter in the book was how to better deal with this pain. When I’m struggling during a workout or race, I try to focus on the ultimate goal, remembering that the pain I’m feeling is only temporary and is taking me another step toward my goal…and then I remind myself how great I am going to feel once I achieve that goal.

The bottom line is that the physical pain/discomfort that you feel in training and racing pales in comparison to the emotional pain/embarrassment that you will feel if you don’t achieve your goals because you didn’t work though the pain. The pain you feel during the race is temporary, but the feelings of accomplishment and pride you feel at the finish line having overcome that pain will last forever!

Just remember, you’ve never experienced any pain like this:



2.45 miles in 16:33 (6:44 min/mile pace)
The purpose of this run was just to get the legs moving and see how my stomach reacted to running. I’ve been fighting a stomach virus/food poisoning battle since Sunday afternoon. I skipped my Monday workout and was feeling better until about half-way through my run this morning. I had planned on going further, but decided against it. I also stumped my big toe Sunday morning (I’m too embarrassed to say how it happened) and it started hurting a little during the run too. I’m having all kinds of issues…I’ve yet to make the decision on my planned 14 mile run tomorrow morning.


1776 yards (1.0 miles) in 33:15
Nothing fancy here, just wanted to do a mile at a good pace. I focused on my body roll and hand position. Felt pretty good…other than my big toes hitting each other (which is normal) and aggravating my jammed toe!

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