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Using Psychology to Improve your Race Day Performance

“The only road to a good performance is – presence that takes place now” your ability to stay with the moment at all times and not let your mind take control. If you can stay present and just live for the moment during a race then anything is possible



Athletes and the power of the present moment

by Grant Giles

“After 13 years of coaching and interacting with athletes I find that the biggest single hurdle for athletes is their mental approach to racing and training and, indeed more importantly, their attitude to life in general.

I find that athletes are type A personalities, very driven, very goal orientated and, for the most part, very anxious as well. There are exceptions to the rule but the mirror image to high performance is always some form of anxiety. Its almost a necessity to want to succeed in difficult goals (ie) in order to do this sport you need to be driven and I think this applies from age group athletes right through to elite professional athletes.

It is always difficult to broach the subject of psychology with athletes. There still seems to be some stigma attached to the words “mental health” and I think that’s a shame. Personally, I feel that psychology in sport and in the general population still has a long way to go and for athletes we have only just scratched the surface of what is possible with a good mental prep and psychological maintenance program.

Some of the biggest difficulties I see with athletes relate to their inability to exist for the present moment. I’ve seen so much angst by athletes who are mentally exhausted and don’t realise it. Mental exhaustion causes all sorts of problems from anxiety issues to clinical depression and immune dysfunction. I also believe that I have seen athletes and their supporters label depression as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome because, again the stigma that revolves around mental health always makes it a hard subject to broach with athletes.

One of the causes of mental exhaustion is that athletes have a preoccupation or habit of mentally labelling everything. How does that feel? How was that performance? Why didn’t I feel as good as last week? Oh this prep isn’t going the same way as the last one I did. The prep I did when I won was different and so on. There is a constant noise and there is a constant comparison of now against the past. Also, with athletes there is always a projection into the future. The cost of the above is always the loss of the present moment and the present is the only moment which is critical to performance and general wellbeing.

For instance when things go wrong with fluid intake or nutrition or pace – most of the time it’s not because there wasn’t a plan. Its more often than not, the athlete just starts obsessing over things that cannot be controlled – past / future / other competitors etc etc –  It is a constant mental labelling of everything that can get very exhausting during a race and detracts from focus because, simply put, focus is the present moment.  The interesting thing about the present is that it is a far more intelligent state for an athlete to use because with the present moment comes awareness, a far more powerful state, that in its purest form will not only bring you some calm headspace, but will bring you a better standard of performance because you will actually be present to make changes that actually effect your performance. 

It’s a good little test to run on yourself – just check how much energy you use thinking about what has happened in the past or check to see how much time you spend thinking about the future. The big problem with the past and the future is that you are not actually in a state that exists at all. So think about that for second – how much focus, consciousness and presence can you bring to a thought pattern like that? How much closer will those thought patterns bring you to a great performance or a better training situation?

I once read a quote that I thought was brilliant and it read (“nothing ever happened in the past – It happened in the now – Echart Tolle”)  How perfectly true and how much we fight this one simple truth by living in some altered state. I can’t tell you how many times as a coach I have watched a talented athlete dwell on one bad result. I have seen athletes have great seasons and then have a bad result and turn a great season into something less in their minds by dwelling on one negative in a sea of positive. I call it the spiral. The place where an athlete will spiral downwards into a suffering hell of negatives that are based on nothing, and again, a non reality that has no basis of truth. In this state there is no connection to the present moment, there is no sense of real consciousness or focus. I sometimes marvel at a good athlete’s ability to see the negative side of their talent. A drive for better is great, but a thought of weakness or dwelling on certain aspects in a great athlete is very destructive. Again, once a negative spiral gets into place, it’s a hard nut to crack.

I always find it interesting that when people talk about focus they seem to think it’s some kind of mystic place that you go on a plane above mortal consciousness. To me this just creates confusion for athletes. Even Buddhists will tell you that meditation doesn’t take them away –it actually brings them into the present moment in a state of awareness and peace. A very aware, intelligent space it is for one simple reason – it is free of the mental chatter and negative self talk that we constantly feed ourselves. The constant labelling good and bad, right and wrong goes into the background and a clear focus comes into view. 

So if I needed to summarise this for athletes where would I begin?

“Where ever you are before a race, be there totally” What does that mean? It means that whatever you do in the lead-up and during a race you must be in the present. Too many people live in the future or the past – even during a race (i.e.) They worry about things that have happened to them in the past or they worry about whether they might cramp later or blow-up or dehydrate and so on. Nothing that you think about in the future or the past can help you Now and the only real tangible thing that you actually have at all times is the present – presence is powerful, presence is real – You either choose to be present and in the now, or you choose to be lost in your thoughts and the “what ifs”. “The only road to a good performance is – presence that takes place now” your ability to stay with the moment at all times and not let your mind take control. If you can stay present and just live for the moment during a Race then anything is possible.

Stay Calm:
Absolutely critical in triathlon. Keep your mind calm and quite. Practise this. Everybody talks about positive thoughts but an even better option is to have no thoughts at all. It takes energy to have thoughts positive or negative. You need to set up a state of awareness – in this state you are aware of everything that is happening around you but you are not analysing whether it’s good or bad, you are just responding to events as they unfold, and that takes very little energy. It’s a state that some people call self confidence.

Don’t judge every moment:
Most of the mental chatter in your head during a race comes from judging and assessing how the race is going and whether it’s unfolding as you planned it. Again this is valuable energy that you can use to drive you forward. We can turn around even the worst of days out there, but this can only happen from a mind that is calm, quite, and free from the tendency to continually judge and analyse whats going on. 

Don’t hold back:
If you hold back because you have fear of falling short of your goals then you are always going to be sorely disappointed. This is a massive problem even for world level pros. There are no guarantees in this life so don’t squander opportunities by holding back and not being present. There is a quote from sports psychology that I really like it and it reads – “people are scared of winning” I really think this is true. If you hold back that 10% then you will never achieve your goals but if you throw out your mental blocks then anything can happen and there’s a lot more satisfaction in knowing you gave it everything and fell short rather then fall short by holding back.

There was also an interesting quote from a big wave surfer called Laird Hamilton, when asked why he risks his life in the pursuit of massive waves he replied – “I don’t want to not live by worrying about what might or could happen”. What’s the punch line? – live in the now, and don’t obsess or waste energy over things you can’t control and above all don’t think about outcomes.

Lets take a worry thought for a moment, “what if I flat” basically you are projecting an imaginary future situation, and that creates fear. If you think about it logically there is no way you can deal with this situation because, in reality, it doesn’t actually exist. It’s a mental phantom that creates fear and fear is certainly not helpful before or during a Race. Instead of going down this road of fear and destructiveness, ask yourself  – “what problem do I have right now?” Not next year, not tomorrow, not in 5 minutes time – right Now –you’ll be amazed at what can happen if you can stay in that place.



For more information contact Grant Giles at



The material that appears on is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site.

Articles on training-related topics represent the personal opinions of the author based on their own experience and research. provides these for your review and consideration, but does not endorse any particular recommendations of the authors.




Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.



Peter Robertson’s Gamagori Memories inspire Australian Talent Academy Young Guns



Triathlon Australia’s National Talent Academy “Young Guns” won’t have to look too far for inspiration when they line up in Sunday’s ITU Triathlon Asian Cup in Gamagori.

It was in 2005 in the picturesque Japanese coastal city of on Mikawa Bay that one of the legends of Australian triathlon, Peter Robertson created history when he won the last of his three World Championships.

After victories in Edmonton and Queenstown in 2001 and 2003 “Robbo” stuck to his two-year cycle to dig deep again and take a third and deserving world championship victory.

Now seven years on Robertson, 36, is one of several coaches on the NTA Young Guns tour in charge of an exciting new generation of Australian triathlon stars.

Melbourne-based Robertson has been appointed along with the likes of Craig Walton, Chris Lang and Keiran Barry to steer an exciting group of youngsters who have already made a big impression.

Queensland’s Sarah Deuble, who is coached by Dan Atkins, has already chalked up two wins from two starts in the Mooloolaba Oceania Cup and at last Sunday’s ITU Triathlon Asian Cup race in Amakusa and is looking for a third.

“I’m really enjoying my first experience with the Japanese races,” Deuble said. “Obviously Amakusa was great fun, winning the race there. I hope I can continue to race well again this weekend in Gamagori.”

Deuble was 20 seconds behind in the swim and then went on to dominate the bike and run.

Bree Jones at Amakusa

Sydney’s Bree Jones had a great start and lead to the first turning buoy but was forced wide and wasn’t aggressive enough to hold position so lost time to the lead three Japanese athletes. A four-women second pack lead by Jones and included Kirralee Pride with Deuble was further 20 seconds behind and out by herself.

Onto the bike the Japanese trio tried to form a lead while the group formed behind and included all three Aussie girls. They were caught at the 15km mark.

The group completed the bike together with Deuble making a very smart, very sneaky move at the end, finishing the bike about 100m off the front, the bike course finished with a moderately steep downhill with a shallow turn mid-way through.

She positioned herself on the front for the dismount line but the Asian athletes all braked for the downhill and Sarah managed to roll off the front.

Deuble then built a lead from there and raced out of sight, finishing 1min clear of Japanese pair Kirra and Sato who ran together until the last kilometre where Kirra managed to get a small break on the last small rise before the finish.

“On the last hill of the bike I managed to break away from everyone and had about a handy lead on the field going down the hill but then I didn’t realise that the dismount line was so close so when I got to the line I had to fully slam on my breaks to not go over it as I still had to get one of my feet out,” Deuble said.

“By the time I did this the main pack had all caught me so I was a little disappointed about that but I still managed to be third out of transition onto the run.

“Then on the run I started off at a nice comfortable pace and just eased into the first 1km and then at about the 2km mark which was this long gradual hill I pulled away.

“From then on I led the whole way although I started to struggle at about the 8km mark with a really bad stitch.

“Over the last 2km I just tried to push through the pain as best I could and finally at about 500m to go the pain finally subsided and I was able to finish strongly.

“Overall I was really happy with how I raced, I was just annoyed at my dismount but apart from that everything else ran smoothly.

“My transitions were nice and fast so hopefully coach Dan Atkins will be pleased with that.”

Mitch Keally wins Bronze in the Men’s race

In the men’s race it was Shane Barry and Taylor Cecil who led out of water with a five to seven second lead to a group of men including former Commonwealth Games athlete Mitch Kealy (who would go on to finish third) Marcel Walkington, Kenji Nener and Kane Simpson.

Michael Gosman was a further 10sec back with another Japanese athlete. Sam Speachley was 1.10min down on the leaders.

On the mount line Kim (Korea) ran into the back of Walkington who broke his rear derailleur resulting in a DNF.

This group formed a lead pack of 12 men on the bike that worked well together to build a 2 min plus gap on the chasers.

Onto the run a lead group of 10 formed straight away with Michael Gosman falling off the pace out of transition.

Mitch, Taylor and Shane ran at the front until the 4km mark where Svarc (CZE) and Goldsmith (NZL) formed a small break on the steep downhill.

Goldsmith built a strong lead from there and looked well in control from the 8km mark and was never headed.

Svarc built a small lead but that was cut in the last 1km as Mitch and Taylor finished strongly dropping Shane over the last rise on the course a bridge with 1km to go.

Svarc held on while Kealy and Taylor had a sprint finish for 3rd (the race finished on a tartan track for the final 300m) with Barry fifth, Shaw sixth and Nenner seventh and Simpson ninth – giving Australia six of the top ten.

As for Robertson he can’t wait to get back to the Gamagori course with so many great memories.

“After winning the world champs in 2005 in Gamagori I can’t wait to return this time to watch and support the young guns from Australia!” said the duel Olympian.

“The Japanese always put on great events and I sure Gamagori will once again be exciting racing. A little less painful for me this time around though!”



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Australian Triathlon Olympic Team Voting Results



We ran a poll on Trizone a couple of weeks ago to get some feedback from the Australian triathlon community. 474 people voted on who they wanted in the Australian Triathlon Team for the Olympics. It was interesting to watch the voting. Macca and Atkinson were the overwhelming favourites to fill the remaining two men’s spots. Brendan Sexton received  around about 12% of the men’s votes. Interestingly Macca received 1% of the vote to fill one of the female spots.

For the record Brad Kahlefledt and Emma Moffatt are already in the team.

In the women’s voting things were heavily weighted towards Erin Densham for obvious reasons. However voting for the third spot was interesting. It was all Emma Snowsill for the first few days then over a 2-3 hour period on a Thursday afternoon there was a plunge on Emma Jackson and she swept to the lead and remained there until we closed the poll.

The talk is that Snowy will get the 3rd spot and it is pretty obvious that Erin Densham is the number 2.

A lot of people are questioning why Ashleigh Gentle’s name is not being mentioned. The word is that she is still young and not quite consistent enough but is definitely being groomed for the Olympics in Rio 2016. Along with Emma Jackson and whoever else we will have an incredibly strong female Olympic team in four years time.

In the men’s team things are not quite as straight forward. Courtney Atkinson has come good recently and with his past form will get the nod for spot number two. To everyone it looks like Chris McCormack should get the nod ahead of Brendan Sexton. However the inside talk is that Sexton has met more of the selection criteria over the last year.

In Sydney during the ITU it was obvious who the triathlon public wanted to see in the London 2012 team. Everytime Macca came past the cheers were huge.

Sexton seems to be struggling to get out of the water and is then struggling to get back in to the race.

A dark horse would be Aaron Royle. If it wasn’t for a major mistake in T1 Royle could very well have placed top 10 in Madrid. Coming out of the water with the leaders Royle then proceeded to follow them through transition forgetting that he was around number 49 not 9. So he had to double back to get his bike and missed the front pack. In saying this Royle has not had the opportunity over the last year to meet selection criteria.

Let’s see what happens this weekend.

Click here to see the voting results




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Triathlon Australia’s Newest Board Member Mick Maroney wants to Connect Triathletes with the Board



The appointment of Dr Mick Maroney to the Triathlon Australia board recently has been met with a positive reaction from the general triathlon community in Australia. A professional in the sport in the late 80s and 90s Mick Maroney brings a true ‘triathlon’ representation to the sport’s governing body.

Mick Maroney on his way to yet another title in Sydney

Maroney has replaced Michelle Gallen on the TA board. “I have jumped at this great opportunity. Whilst it is an 18 month term I hope to be involved at this level for a lot longer. I would like to eventually be involved in the High Performance area in TA post London.”

Maroney is adament that he wants to be a conduit for communication between the general Australia triathlon community and the board. “I am passionate about the sport as everyone who knows me is aware of. I want to be someone that triathletes in Australia feel they can come to and talk about anything that is going on in the sport.”

Many newcomers to triathlon will not be so familiar with Mick Maroney, especially if they are from outside NSW. These days you will see Mick racing the NSW triseries, TriShave Sprint Series and world ITU age group championships. In 2009 and 2011 Mick won the ITU world sprint championship title for his age group and regularly wins NSW sprint race and always his age group. At 45 he is still showing the young guys and girls how to race. He has been heavily involved in the junior development of the sport.

In 1989 Maroney won the Noosa triathlon title and was selected the following year in the elite team. He then went on to race domestically and made the unselfish decision to travel the world and support his young sister in her swimming endeavours. You can find photos of Mick standing with Fidal Castro in Cuba when Susie Maroney famously swum from Florida to Cuba amongst many other great endeavours.

Out of school Mick followed his father’s (deputy police commissioner ) footsteps in to the police force. This lasted for only a couple of years before he realised it was not for him. He went on to do triathlons professionally for a few years.

In 2001 he stepped down from racing completely and didn’t take it up again until 2006 when the children were getting a little older.

Maroney came from a swimming background. “When we started we knew nothing about triathlon. I spent all my time reading magazines from the US trying to work out what to do. A long with a number of other pioneers of the sport we developed a bunch of guys in Cronulla like Troy Fidler, Greg Welch, a young Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander, Brad Bevan occasionally turned up along with Peter Roberston, among others.”

People like the great Scott Mollina where his idols and what got him in to the sport. Something that a lot of newcomers to the sport don’t have. The past greats of the sport were what attracted people to triathlon. These days it is more about lifestyle for most people.

After pulling back from the sport and supporting Susie in her endeavours Mick became a fireman. “While my colleagues were watching Foxtel I was studying to get a degree so that I could become a teacher. I wanted to get a career that would be ideal for family life and triathlon coaching.” He now teaches PE full time and also lectures at university in Educational Psychology. Mick received a Doctorate in Education Psychology after doing extensive studies and papers on adolescent development.

I took the opportunity to ask what everyone wants to know. Is the way that TA selects the Olympic team is working? “The process is a collaborative process and is put together by a number of parties. TA really only looks at the process to make sure that it is followed. The selection committee makes the policy in collaboration with coaches and athletes. TA oversees its implementation.”

Could TA communicate this better to the triathlon public so that there is less ‘TA bashing’ taking place?

“The board is a representation of the membership. Some information bandied about is incorrect. The board has copped a bit of flack when all it is doing is following a process. The communication process could be improved no doubt. But that is more my opinion as a triathlete.”

“The board doesn’t say this person should be in and this person shouldn’t. The board simply makes sure that process is followed.”

On the board because he thinks he could make a difference. “I hope that people in the sport will come to me and tell me what they are not happy with so I can make a difference. It is alright to complain after but what about tell me earlier if there are things you are not happy about. We need to hear from people on what is working and what isn’t.” Mick hopes this will happen.




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Inaugural Port Stephens triseries a Huge Success



The end of season and inaugural triseries race at Port Stephens last weekend was a great success with Elite Energy holding their usual three race format and putting on a great triathlon festival. A race for everyone is what seems to make these events so great. The weather was perfect and the times the main races were held was ideal for Sydneysiders and those travelling to the race on the day.

How warm was it for mid May? You did not need a wetsuit and in the Sprint race there really was no advantage. With the rip dragging everyone out to the first buoy it was really only and couple of hundred meters of swimming before we had to stand up and run another couple of hundred meters in calf deep water. That was hard!!

Kieran Roche winning the Olympic Distance - Photo Credit: Victor Lee

In the main race of the day Kieran Roche and Caroline Sweeney took the overall Olympic distance honours. In the men’s open category Roche pulled away on the bike from second placed Sam Douglas and was never headed. He ran a 36:42 to cap off a successful race.

First time to the open category was Wollongong’s Nathan Miller racing in the Mark Scott stripes. Miller headed out of T2, along with Shaun Vidler, ahead of Ben Hammond. Hammond fell off the pace in the bike leg towards the end but had enough of a run in him to get over the top of Miller and take third place.

(Victor Lee’s photos from the day can be viewed here)

Upstaging them all though was age grouper Adam Conquest who’s race time put him in second place overall. Conquest is known for his very strong bike but backed it up with a run that was faster than the open guys to have the third fastest run time overall. The three fastest runs of the day all went to age groupers. Balmoral’s Owain Matthews posted a 34:59 to continue his impressive start to the sport of triathlon. The renowned runner from Great Britain is loving the multi discipline sport. He is still playing with the balance between the bike and run. Jarred Adams posted the second fastest run with a 36:14. Adams works with Mark Newton at Jet Cycles and is part of the coaching team that looks after Douglas and Roche.

In the women’s race there was again a lack of open females racing. This is no slight on Elite Energy as there have been a distinct lack of open females racing this season everywhere. Brook Langereis was down to race open but with no other open female entrants she changed to her age group which she duly won.

Caroline Sweeney eventually took the overall title. This ‘Wonder Women’ (full time worker, mother of two pre schoolers, violinist in the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra) has made a fairly decent comeback to the sport of triathlon after taking time out to have her two children. Although Sweeney’s swim was almost three minutes behind Langereis she was able to use her strong bike / run combo to finish almost three minutes ahead of Langereis.

Julie Uebel finished third overall.

In the Sprint race we were lucky as always to watch the ability of 45 year old Mick Maroney as he claimed the overall fastest time of the day. He decided to redline all day and see how long he could keep the pace up. Until the end as we found out. He pulled out one of his fastest runs of the year in doing so.

Cameron Roberts and Luke Chalker rounded out the overall podium. In doing so Roberts won the 16-17 age group and Chalker won the 14-15 age group. Roberts ran a 16:46 for the 5kms and rode very well.

In the women’s race South African Anel Stewart had a solid hit out and was the fastest female on the day with Balmoral’s Hannah Lawrence second overall and Michelle Wiseman third. Stewart has raced at ITU level and on her day is a very fast triathlete. Lawrence is a solid age grouper with some good potential. Loves racing and is always positive and outgoing.

Elite Energy puts on triathlon festivals that we love going to. The atmosphere and vibe from the team is always great. From a couple of events (including Husky of course) three years ago to over 10 triathlon festivals next year is a significant growth curve.








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Australian Triathlon Olympic Team Makeup – Have your say!



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Triathlon on TV in May – One HD



Channel Ten’s One HD has 10 triathlon programs still to run in May. Saturday May 12 at 1pm sees Ironman Melbourne with a repeat on Sunday at 4:30pm. The San Diego round of the ITU will be shown on Wednesday, Thursday and with highlights early Friday morning next week.


  • Sat May 12: Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship, 1-2pm
  • Sun May 13: Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship, 4.30-5.30pm (repeat)
  • Wed May 16: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Womens Race, 12-2.30pm
  • Thur May 17: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Mens Race, 12-2.30pm
  • Fri May 18: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Highlights, 6-7am
  • Mon May 21: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Womens Race, 6-8.30am (repeat)
  • Mon May 21: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Mens Race, 8.30-11am (repeat)
  • Wed May 23: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Highlights, 2-3am (repeat)
  • Sat May 26: Ironman Australia 2011, 6-7am
  • Sat May 26: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Highlights, 7-8am (repeat)



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