How wellness can make you a better Triathlete

Triathlons are intense, physically-draining events that can be perfectly complemented by an unlikely training tool: Wellness. Trizone looks at the power of the world’s favourite new health trend, and how it can make you a better triathlete.

“Competition is 90% mental and 10% physical, so it seems wasteful to neglect the opportunity to strengthen the mind of an athlete,” says Jess Gumkowski, also known as the Yogi Triathlete. Tim Reed echoes Jess’ thoughts, telling Trizone “on a daily basis, I’d lie down for 20 minutes and just listen to relaxing music and do some mindfulness training.”

Athlete burnout happens to age groupers and pros

Both Tim Reed and Jess Gumkowski are have been through periods of burn out that have sparked their interest in mindfulness; a vital part of living a holistic of ‘well’ life.

“Last year, I was completely burnt out from how tired I was. Everyone had sacrificed so much for my race in Australia; me and my family had made sacrifices. Then, when I got there, I was so anxious to get on that podium I destroyed myself,” Tim Reed told Trizone.

With his mind in overdrive and riddled with anxiety due to lack of sleep, Reed’s training couldn’t stand up to his exhaustion. “I didn’t sleep for three days. My training was spot on, but my anxiety got the better of me,” said Reed. “My power was lower than my power at Ironman Australia, and the event was only half the distance.”

Ironman age grouper Jess has a similar story, and found herself suffering complete exhaustion. She felt constantly overwhelmed, and now barely recognises the girl she used to be.

Mindfulness as a cure for athlete burnout

Tim Reed has completely changed his mindset after his experience in Austria. “I’m racing with a sense of gratitude now,” Reed told Trizone. “I look at it as an opportunity, and the only real failure is if I give up hallway through. I prioritise sleep and recovery more than I ever have in previous years.”

Pre-race preparation has completely changed for Reed, and incorporates specific mindfulness training in the months leading up to a race. “On a daily basis, I lie down for twenty minutes, I lie back and listen to relaxing music and do some mindfulness training,” says Reed.

“If you do it once or twice in the days leading up to a race, it’s probably not goin to do that much. If you’re getting the benefits of four or five weeks of daily practice; you get that little kick of healthy hormones, aid your recovery, clear your mind and reduce stress. I’ve found it pretty helpful,” Tim Reed told Trizone.

Meditation to finish an Ironman with ease

Jess agrees with Reed; the stress and emotional strain of competition requires mental calm. “In 2010, after a move back to New England from Boulder, Colorado it became evident that I needed to find a deeper way in which to find calm in the chaos of the world and competition. This is when I started to meditate. The effects were immediate, profound and have led me to a place in my life where I can now finish an Ironman with ease.”

Meditation and conscious breathing can keep you level-headed during a race, as well as before it. “When you are fully focused and experiencing your body’s movements and the exchange of air through your nose and lungs, you better relax into those movements. The less tension there is in your limbs, the more powerfully and efficiently they can move. As athletes experience from time to time, “flow” is that seemingly magical state of physical and mental engagement that can happen during sport in which they perform to their very highest ability with seemingly little effort,” said Elinor Fish. Fish has created the Mindful Running Training System, and like Yogitriathlete Jess Gumkowski, Fish works with triathletes with mindful techniques as part of their training.

Mindfulness for better balance

Adventure athlete Jason Magness is so passionate about the power of conscious breathing and mindfulness, he wrote about it for Ironman, and the benefits are huge. “Focused nasal breathing during activity can lead to increased cardiovascular and physical endurance, lower heart rate, less anxiety, more mental alertness, and even better proprioceptive balance,” Magness wrote.

Not only will you be calm, but your balance will be better. “Increased dynamic balance allows your body to react correctly during sudden moments of instability, like a misstep on a rocky trail run descent, or swerving abruptly on your bike to avoid road debris,” Magness wrote for Ironman.

Yoga and triathlon: The key to injury avoidance?

Picture this: You’re halfway through the run during a 70.3 event and you’re truly struggling. You’ve lost motivation and the thought of puling out is slowly becoming more and more appealing. As you’re incredibly fatigued, your balance and strength deteriorate and you’re barely able to function.

What if you’d been doing yoga for the months leading up to the event? “Practiced regularly (three times a week) it will help inhibit the formation of most of the overuse symptoms that come as a result of repetitive motion associated with long-distance events,” wrote Magness.

Not only will your body be functioning better, but your body’s ability to maintain momentum through extreme fatigue improves. “Many vinyasa yoga practitioners significantly increase their ability to endure physical discomfort while maintaining form, breathing pattern, and focus,” wrote Magness. Physical discomfort may be a euphemism, but it’s the essence of severe physical exhaustion athletes experience during an Ironman or long distance event.

Does mindfulness make you a better competitor?

Yes. Tim Reed swears by it and we’re hooked. Better balance, enhanced ability to face fatigue, better recovery and decreased anxiety on race day; it’s no wonder trainers like Elinor Fish and Jess Gumkowski create wellness-based training plans for athletes eager to become better triathletes.

Few triathletes have a regular wellness practice, but it’s becoming more and more important, and trendy for yoga, mindfulness and calm to complement training regimes.

Shawn Smith

A cyclist and tech geek at heart with a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of Australia's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.