13 Things Great Triathletes Don’t Do

Here is my list of things great triathletes don’t do. It’s inspired by Amy Morin’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

I like her approach. Instead of telling you what you should do, she tells you what not to do.

Her reasoning is that you’re probably already doing many things right, but just one wrong thing can derail you.

Here we go:

1. They don’t compare themselves to others

Progress is beating your past achievements, or even just continuing to train and race.

But the temptation is to compare yourself to others which almost always results in disappointment, barring the most elite of us.

It takes a certain amount of maturity and confidence to be proud of your own results, even if they are not the best.

race smart written on arm in marker
I once wrote “Race Smart” on my arm before a full Ironman as a reminder

Many triathletes have type-A personalities and are easily baited into racing others even when it may be detrimental to their performance.

While they may enjoy a friendly challenge, they don’t let other athletes dictate their paces.

They follow their own plans and race their own races without trying to beat the guy next to them.

See tip #60: Race your own race

2. They don’t worry if their training is cut short

Injuries, work or family conflicts, or other events can get in the way completing a training plan or maybe even making it to a race you had planned.

Often, a few missed sessions due to a mild sickness is inconsequential.

And while a serious injury may end a season, you will have other opportunities to race. It can feel catastrophic when this happens, but you need to look at the big picture.

Years ago, when a doctor told me I shouldn’t run the marathon I had registered for overseas, I was devastated.

But I managed to get a refund, heal, and do another one a few months later. No big deal.

3. They train themselves in nutrition like they do in swim, bike, and run

How many hours a week do you spend swimming, cycling, and running vs how many you spend studying, planning, and testing your nutrition?

All of us knew how to run when we started this sport. Toddlers know how to run. The vast majority of us could ride a bike. Most of us could swim.

But how many of us have learned the science behind endurance nutrition? And how many of us have planned and tested that nutrition ourselves, in conditions simulating our races?

Testing what works best for you is critical, but it’s just the start. Read, research, study, and lean about why and how they work or don’t work.

There is so much to read, study and learn that this is a journey you may never master.

See supporting tips:

#43: Plan your nutrition well in advance

#55: Test your nutrition in advance

4. They don’t try anything new on race day

Anybody who has ever raced has heard this one. All your equipment needs to have been tested. Now is not the time to learn that something doesn’t work, and this includes nutrition and hydration.

Get it ironed out months beforehand, then test it all a week or two before the race.

See tip #38: Don’t try anything new on race day

5. They don’t rely on anybody for anything

You can only really trust yourself to know how all the pieces of your life, training, and racing fit together.

So you can’t expect anybody else to plan these things.

Finding the motivation to train, sticking to a plan, and being self-reliant are all your responsibility, and nobody else’s.

Everything from your training plan to your race-day logistics should be done by you, and in your control.

See tip #48: Don’t rely on anybody for anything

6. They don’t let a bad performance get to them

Whether training or racing, we all have bad performances. We have good ones, too.

But you can’t be expected to perform optimally in every session, set, or race.

Of course, if you’re pro it may be different. You may have sponsors and others you need to keep happy.

But most of us age-groupers are just here for fun, and if you take the fun out of it, what are you doing?

7. They don’t ignore the mental game

Most of us know that your mindset can easily make or break a race.

3 triathletes running in the sun
One technique that may make time fly is socializing with others on the run, but it may not be the best approach for pure focus and performance.

This is a huge domain with a lot of breadth and depth, but some major mental areas are addressed in tips like:

#3: Make a Friend on the Run

#46: Come up with a chant or mantra

#47: Reject the idea that you are ever in pain

#50: Visualize the race, especially the end

#51: Use associative techniques

#52: Focus on the numbers

#54: Overlay familiar distances on your current course

8. They don’t make excuses

I’ve found myself making excuses inside my head but then realizing it was just the lazy part of me trying to convince me to stay in bed.

But I usually recognize them as excuses and move past them. The more you do this the less momentum those excuses will ever gain.

I think of the one-legged runner I saw with a shirt that said, “What’s your excuse?”

9. They don’t train when they shouldn’t

Here are a few of those times:
When you have a real injury, are sleep-deprived, or if you are getting burned outWhen you have a bad cough or other below-the-neck illnessWhen you have a work commitment that needs to be fulfilled. Just be honest with yourself about when you should and shouldn’t train, and don’t take the ‘no excuses’ rule too far.

10. They don’t go into a race uninformed

Course knowledge is one of the greatest pieces of preparation you can do before a race.

Here are some ways I’ve done this:

  • Read race reports online
  • Watched YouTube footage of the race
  • Cycled the route on a trainer using Rouvy (video of the course) or a .gpx file, so as to simulate the hills
  • Talked to people who have done the course
  • Studied maps, especially Google’s Street View
  • Read weather forecasts
  • Simulated the race using my bike setup on BestBikeSplit (see tip #27: Use BestBikeSplit)
  • Calculated the correct calories, carbs, sodium, etc I’d need based on my times and the climate (hint – we have a calculator for that)
  • Calculated their expected race time (there’s another calculator for that)
  • Driven the course in advance
  • Swam, cycled, and run parts of the course in advance

Supporting tips:

#18: Check the course before race day

#19: Arrive at the race a few days early

11. They don’t let training or racing interfere with family or relationships

If you’re single and living alone this may not apply to you.

But if you have a spouse, kids, parents, or others that may need your time and presence, this is a major item.

12. They don’t brag

It’s amazing how fast some triathletes are, even age groupers. I sometimes wonder how it would feel to be the guy who does a sub-3 marathon or a sub-9 race.

Most of these really fast athletes seem to be fairly humble and don’t have a big head.

But we’ve probably all head of others, often not so fast, that brag or talk a bit too big.

I think it’s a defense mechanism to cover up insecurity. Hence, why the best don’t need it; they have nothing to prove.

But if you just qualified for Kona or raced your best ever, and you want to show your pride to your close friends, I don’t think it’s wrong to share your enthusiasm with them.

Just do it with close friends; the kind that would genuinely feel happy for you. In which case, it’s not bragging, it’s friendship.

13. They don’t forget their Reason for Racing

The Reason is a single, anchor foundation for all the hard work you’re putting in and all the pain you endure.

Without that Reason, other forces will prevail. Forces asking you to quit, give in, and start thinking this is all a waste of time and energy.

Common Reasons are:

Physical benefits – Weight loss, lower blood pressure, having more energy, looking and feeling younger/better.
Inspiring others – Being a hero to your kids, or showing your family and friends that you can do it may make them follow. Similar, are athletes who raise money for a cause they really believe in.

The sheer challenge of it – I think this is why I got started, and now that I’ve done it, I can’t stop. I’m always looking for the next PB or World Champs qualification to keep this momentum going.


What do you think?

Do you disagree with any of these?

Should any be changed?

Let me know in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “13 Things Great Triathletes Don’t Do”

  1. These are awesome tips, some of it are easier to pen/think then do. Its very easy to be baited while on the course, especially by an older or bigger athlete. And its not easy to not compare yourself to other atheltes, be it frienda, teammates or rivals. Pushing through minor injuries is a big NO for more senior athletes. We tend to take longer to recover, and pushing through could very potentially lead to something more serious. Theres always another race, and there is no age limit for races.
    The one thing I dont agree though is that you cant rely on anyone for anything. You need a crew. Seriously, you need a crew. If you have a family you need to be able to focus on the race knowing that things at home are settled. Races can take you away for more than a week sometimes, especially if you need to acclimatize. Its great if you have family to keep you company in those times. If you are single, always great to have at least a buddy around. Anything can happen in a race. Despite the insurance and race organizers, a crew is crucial for emergencies, more so if you are racing in a foreign land and you dont speak the language.

    1. Hi Idham, Great feedback. I guess I need to be clearer on not relying on others. I’m referring to critical things like your bookings, your bike, your packing, etc. I absolutely agree that you need a team. Hey, Terai Melayu saved me when I got stung by a jellyfish in Langkawi and my Malay wasn’t assertive enough to get out of the hospital before race check-in! This is why I have tip #5, Put Together a Crew: https://ironmanhacks.com/101-ironman-hacks/5-put-together-a-crew/

  2. Thank you for a re-mindful read. I don’t do #10 well, as I tend to enjoy the ‘spontaneity’ of what can reveal itself on the course. I just have a general sense of the course, and major obstacles. I would prioritise weather and water conditions (temperature & wave) as my preparatory ‘large hints’.
    I enjoy reading ‘Ironman Hacks’ every Friday – My ‘Fifth Discipline’. From an editor to another, I love the diversity of topics and variety. These ‘variants’ I especially can embrace. Looking forward to reading today’s edition.

  3. Great list which I agree with 100%. Especially in these challenging days of 2021 with such uncertainty about racing. Note, the uncertainty about racing at present should be like a long offseason, work on your weaknesses and stay fit. Make training a lifestyle for positive reasons like these listed here.

    Lastly, something often overlooked is the effect of weather on the body’s performance. Your best performance may have been in the toughest of circumstances. For example, in really hot conditions one must slow down or have the effects of over heating and cramps hit.

    Add to that perhaps a stiff wind and a strong current on the swim, and your result may be many minutes from a PB, but in fact is tremendous. In closing, ensure your goals are given the correct context. Ensure your why for those goals is yours.

    Great job again Andrew.

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