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Erin Horil: Training The Mind

Erin Horil: Training The Mind
January 26, 2018 Nick Seitz

A couple months ago I completed Ironman 70.3 North Carolina and switched focus to training for a Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon. When speaking with Michael about goals, he told me I would need to commit to swimming 5-6 days a week for the next four months. This was quite shocking considering I had only been swimming 2-3 days a week at best leading into North Carolina. My head swirled with negativity. I’d be spending precious hours in a cold pool swimming. I feared that I didn’t have would it would take to commit to something that was so daunting for me.

My self-constructed hate-hate relationship with the pool ruled my actions for the beginning of this journey; until I remembered advice my 11th grade English teachertold our class regarding college applications. She said we could spend the time after submitting applications in two ways; nervously fretting the answer or staying calm and confident until the decision was made. When it came down to college applications, how we spent our time waiting didn’t affect the outcome, but it surely affected the way we lived our lives and treated each day for the time being. We would get the same answer regardless of our attitude, but we would certainly look back on that window of time differently based on our attitude. It was after recalling this that I realized I needed to reframe my mindset regarding my swim training. For me, the “college application process” was getting to the end of a day of training. I would get my swims done, but how I chose to think about them throughout the day is what needed altering.

Unlike the college application process, learning to love swimming can actually affect my race outcome in a positive way. When I show up choosing to be less negative, I allow space for my body to perform at new levels. It’s well known that positive self-talk is a stronger stimulus than negative self-talk when it comes to performance. Furthermore, I spent a semester studying the relationship between the central nervous system (or your brain) and fatigue during exercise. It turns out the brain, like muscle, plays an explicit role in our capability to perform, and we have the ability to train it every day (no additional equipment purchases necessary). 

I don’t actually dislike swimming, but I certainly became attached to the idea of swimming being my enemy. I did not want to look back on these exciting months of preparation for my race and have them marked by negative thoughts. I’ve always believed that the joy is in the journey, but had yet to apply this to my own training. I had to make the decision to change my mind about swimming. How exciting is it that I have the ability to train and make one of my limitors stronger?! How exciting is it that I’m spending time with some different training partners in the water?! I’ve even had thoughts creep in to go and get some supplemental yards in the pool (Yes, it’s still Erin writing this article).

As we gear up for another push toward the Spring and Summer racing seasons, let us approach it confidently, knowing that our brain always has the ability to learn and grow when framed by the right mindset. I have hefty goals for my race in March, but regardless of the outcome, I can confidently say that I have become a better athlete as a result of my training. While I still have rough days at the pool, I’ve learned to approach this personal challenge with more confidence and positivity. Let us be athletes that approach our weaknesses head on. Who knows, maybe you’ll get out of the water and realize you’ve loved it the whole time.

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