A CON­VER­SA­TION WITH JEFF SY­MONDS

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FINISH LINE PODIUM -

AL­THOUGH A TRIATHLETE who fol­lows a wellde­signed train­ing and nutri­tion plan will likely achieve great re­sults, an el­e­ment of­ten sep­a­rat­ing cham­pi­ons from their com­peti­tors is men­tal tough­ness. Ex­perts de­fine men­tal tough­ness as the psy­cho­log­i­cal edge en­abling you to cope bet­ter than your com­pe­ti­tion with spe­cific de­mands of your sport and also to be more con­sis­tent and stronger than them while also stay­ing de­ter­mined, fo­cused, con­fi­dent and in con­trol, all un­der pres­sure.

One of the best Cana­dian triath­letes to help il­lus­trate these qual­i­ties is Pen­tic­ton’s Jeff Sy­monds. Fa­mil­iar with suc­cess as well as ad­ver­sity, Sy­monds has made a name for him­self with world-class per­for­mances and a style of men­tal tough­ness he calls “get­ting ugly.” I spoke with Sy­monds to get his thoughts and ex­am­ples on two as­pects of men­tal tough­ness.

Self-be­lief is the idea that you will have more con­fi­dence and con­vic­tion in your rac­ing if you have suc­cess­fully over­come chal­lenges in train­ing or in pre­vi­ous com­pe­ti­tions. Sy­monds ex­plained that, after he grad­u­ated from univer­sity, he was get­ting good re­sults and thought he could com­pete at a very high level. How­ever, he won­dered if the de­sire to be­come a pro­fes­sional triathlete was for the right rea­sons. He won­dered if it was just a way to avoid get­ting a real job. After he came third at the 70.3 World Cham­pi­onships in 2011, he felt val­i­dated as an as­pir­ing pro.

Sy­monds also de­vel­oped self-be­lief after over­com­ing huge ad­ver­sity at the 2013 Chal­lenge Pen­tic­ton event. While he was lead­ing the race, he crashed on his bike do­ing about 60 km/h while de­scend­ing from Yel­low Lake. He ripped his shoul­der and banged both hips, but his bike was ride­able. Sy­monds said to him­self, “There’s no ex­cuse not to con­tinue” and, draw­ing from his deep well of men­tal tough­ness, he mounted his bike and com­pleted the ride. While in tran­si­tion, race of­fi­cials and medics swarmed him. They wanted him to go to the med­i­cal tent, but he be­lieved that if he went in, he would never leave it. In his blood­ied state and with his shred­ded clothes he got onto the run course, ran a 2:47 marathon, won the race and made a huge de­posit in his self-be­lief bank.

An­other as­pect of men­tal tough­ness is in­ner-ar­ro­gance, which is be­liev­ing that one can do any­thing to which he sets his mind. An ex­am­ple of Sy­monds em­ploy­ing this method was at the 2015 Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kona. Sy­monds re­counted that, as he was cy­cling back from the turn-around point at Hawi, one of his cranks be­gan loos­en­ing. He ig­nored the is­sue and con­tin­ued to pass peo­ple hop­ing a sup­port car would ap­pear soon. That never hap­pened. The crank even­tu­ally mal­func­tioned, forc­ing him to stop. After hurl­ing a se­ries of “f-bombs” into the lava fields, he com­posed him­self, and ded­i­cated him­self to fin­ish­ing the ride, al­beit with one leg. Even­tu­ally, the lead fe­male ve­hi­cle passed him and he later re­ceived me­chan­i­cal help. Ar­riv­ing in tran­si­tion he saw his over­all po­si­tion in the race and felt dis­cour­aged, but not for long. Be­fore leav­ing tran­si­tion he made a new goal, to see how quickly he could run the marathon. His in­ner ar­ro­gance told him he could do any­thing he set his mind to. The tac­tic served him well. He had the third-fastest marathon in the race and proved to him­self he was a vi­able con­tender the next time he raced there.

Sy­monds uses self-be­lief and in­ner ar­ro­gance as com­po­nents in his ap­proach to men­tal tough­ness called “get­ting ugly.” What­ever you wish to la­bel it, by in­creas­ing self­be­lief and by tap­ping into your in­ner-ar­ro­gance, you can achieve bet­ter re­sults and have more pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences in your races this sea­son.

Kevin Heinz hosts a bi-weekly pod­cast on health, well­ness, and en­durance sports at fit­speek.com

Jeff Sy­monds “get­ting ugly” at the ITU Mul­tisport World Cham­pi­onships, in Pen­tic­ton in 2017 ABOVE

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