Controlling Your Ego

Like most of you, I am burdened with distinct memories of pivotal moments in racing where I have made mistakes. They are burnt into the hard drive of my mind – I can tell you what I was wearing (race kit,  obviously), what the weather was doing, who was around me, the smells (trust me, it wasn’t the smell of success that day) – everything. That’s how deep those hard lessons burn. I am sure you have the same.

Whenever I find my self daydreaming about those moments (yeah, more than one), I keep falling back to the same question – Why?

Why did I ignore those last 3 Aid Stations?

Why did I ride 30 Watts higher for the first 90km?
Why didn’t I focus on my stride rate?

The answer is always this simple: Ego. 
Now, I am a pretty humble person – I don’t showboat or chest-beat, in fact, I am more of an introvert. But I still have an ego. You have one also.

We all have an ego.

And a sport like triathlon can bring that ego to the surface in a ferocious way. Sometimes we need that just to get out there and put it all on the line. Ego isn’t bad. It serves a purpose. 
But when your ego awakens and isn’t controlled – you make bad decisions; your judgement becomes clouded and you lose the sense of rational logic.

The ego has taken control.

An out of control ego will tell you that you are biking like a machine, so why slow down for an Aid Station – you are the man! Keep Going!

An out of control ego will tell you that you are better than your FTP calculated race pace – ride harder! Drop these fools!

An out of control ego will tell you that you need to catch every athlete in front of you, ignore your pace! Run faster!

Once that ego gets beyond control, you are simply left with chaos – the only certainty is that you will sabotage your race. It is at the point with ego running wild, that you are (ironically) at your lowest point of true self-belief.

That ego – the one telling you that you are invincible, that you can ride harder when you don’t need to (or physically cannot), or to ignore your carefully planned race strategy, is scared. Because deep down, you know that what it’s saying is bullshit and that you shouldn’t listen – but the heat of racing can lead to deaf ears. 

Taking control of your ego takes time, it takes patience – and like all problems, that starts with awareness. How many times have you trained at higher intensities than prescribed because you thought you needed more? How many times have you overtaken a line of athletes, thinking – I am riding so easy today! How many times have you raced the person in the lane next to you, when you were supposed to be having a recovery session?

That’s you, losing control of the ego.

You have to practice raining that beast in. That means being self-aware, acknowledging that you can’t possibly know everything, and listening to your rational mind and what it is telling you. You have to do this in training – every session. Not just the ones where you are correcting from over-training the day prior. Every session. 

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with someone who explained to me the benefits of developing an alter-ego, one that is controllable, that can be used to your advantage to help you be more successful, more self-aware.

He wasn’t the first to adopt the concept, and his method was simple and clean. But the challenging part is the self-belief. It’s all well and good to create something that helps you race better, but you still need to believe in it. How do we do that?

Practice. Every day.

We have spoken about this before. When I put my swim goggles on, I allow my mind to switch over into the mentality that I have created – one that serves me, that is focused and in control. I do this now – even though I don’t race.

I took this same approach to Enduro racing (MTB). It requires a hyper-alert, “on” state for several rounds of 3-7 minutes of downhill riding, mixed with 20-30 mins of climbing back up. I have to be “on” and dialled in, then “off” and back to easy pace-managed riding. So I designed a method that would allow me to easily switch between the two.

It takes time to create that, and then a lot of patience to continually apply it to your training. You cannot expect an alter-ego to just show up on race day if you have not carefully crafted it during training sessions. You have to find what works for you, what resonates with you, what is relevant to what you are trying to achieve.

And don’t think for a minute that by creating this alternate ego, you being disingenuous to your true, inner self. By carefully formatting the boundaries of that ego, and where it applies, you are creating a very specific environment for which it can flourish. It needn’t be a permanent state. And because you created it, you are in control of those boundaries. 

I believe that using a strategy like this can help you race with a greater focus, less distraction and better clarity of what is unfolding around you. Lack of race awareness is often overlooked for bad nutrition or bad pacing and an out of control ego will only worsen that situation.

Who controls your ego?