In coaching and consulting I help endurance athletes achieve their goals, which often includes finishing an Ironman or striving for a PR. Typically, triathletes focus on preparation and are very disciplined to complete the necessary training for their event. Regardless of how well these athletes train they often experience anxiety leading up to and during their race. Hammermeister and Burton (1995) have extensively studied endurance athletes, what type of anxiety is experienced, if anxiety has a major effect on performance, and the pattern of anxiety in single-sport athletes versus those competing in triathlon.

In a recent session using the Sport-Clinical Intake Protocol (Taylor, 1992) revealed that this athlete experiences debilitating anxiety. We explored her symptoms, which include both somatic and cognitive, and are consistent with research findings that symptoms intensify around Ironman competitions. This athlete will be taking the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2) in the upcoming weeks so we can quantify how this athlete experiences anxiety surrounding competition. Results will provide comparison to other distances and types of racing, as well as to norms of other triathletes at her age and level. Additionally, we will follow-up with a post-race evaluation to investigate how this athlete attributes the effect of her anxiety to her performance. Given the research we would expect greater anxiety prior to an Ironman than in shorter triathlons, and running or cycling races. The rationale behind this increase in anxiety was identified by Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) stress model, which anticipates such consequences when there is perceived threat, lack of perceived control, or inadequate coping resources. The extensive amount of equipment in triathlon and the length of the race create greater unknown elements and increases chances that the athlete will need to cope with adversity at some point during the race. Furthermore, these athletes may only race 1-2-times per year, providing few opportunities to test out training and race strategies.

Though it is important to identify the antecedents and consequences of anxiety in Ironman triathletes, the reason for taking such assessments should be to then explore potential solutions and strategies for reducing anxiety. Research finds that somatic anxiety tends to dissipate once the race begins, whereas, cognitive anxiety can effect performance outcomes, especially as the athlete experiences fatigue and challenges beyond training experience. This is useful for developing interventions that will have the greatest impact on performance. Due to races lasting 10-17 hours, our work should be targeted towards reducing cognitive anxiety. These assessment tools can also be used to demonstrate to the athlete the progress they have made which may in turn, boost confidence even more.

For the complete article, check out: