Thinking of Joining USA Triathlon?

Be a part of our 550,000 member community of multisport athletes. Membership benefits include a subscription to the quarterly USA Triathlon magazine, discounts from USA Triathlon partners, inclusion in the national rankings, excess accident insurance at events, and savings at races. To see why you should join or renew today, visit the membership benefits page. Already a member? Login below.

Forgot Password  |  Forgot Member ID  |  Help Renew Membership Become a Member

Conquer Your Fear of Going Fast 

By Cheryl D. Hart

This USA Triathlon Multisport Lab article is presented by, and originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of USA Triathlon Magazine.

speed bump sign “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
                               — Rudyard Kipling, “If”

Successful athletes are committed to excellence and use the power of their minds to chase down their dreams. There are no limits, only possibilities. 

To be victorious in the race against the clock, one must push through mental and physical barriers. Speed requires economy of motion and mind. Unnecessary thoughts waste energy and diminish the will to persevere.

An inner fire or passion of purpose serves as the mental fuel driving your body toward the finish line. The level of motivation determines success or failure. Why put out the extra effort for speed? If a bear chased you, you’d know exactly why. What difference will it make if you hold a 6:15 or 6:45 mile?

Know When to Push

Don’t wait until you are in the heat of a competition to consider the importance of maintaining pace.

Carefully pick specific and limited times to push your body “full-throttle.” I believe we are capable of giving 110 percent effort. We draw from a special reservoir that should be saved for key events. When it comes to speed, it’s crucial to develop trust between mind and body. Only then will they communicate and respond favorably to the request for that extra burst of energy and willpower. This means honoring commitments. Stick to your pre-determined training schedule and race goals. If you’re scheduled for 12 hill repeats at a specific pace, don’t deviate from that.  If you do, your body won’t follow future commands to push due to a self-protection mechanism. Recovery following speed sessions should be taken seriously to rejuvenate mind and body.

Speed on Race Day

Though the swim is considered the first leg of a triathlon, setting up transition is the most foundational leg. Speed here can be detrimental. Pre-race jitters cause many to rush through this essential aspect of their race and learn that indeed haste does make waste. Oops, forgot to fill the water bottle, put out extra gel, or pick up the ankle chip.

Beginning the race too fast in an attempt to stay with the front pack results in a poor form and rattled nerves. Know your realistic race pace. By breaking speed into manageable and measurable increments, you can relax and be confident in your capabilities. Capabilities that were established during training sessions geared toward maintaining this pace.

Practice Speed

Practice makes perfect. Speed sessions are crucial for preparing mentally as well as physically to manage the “discomfort” of speed. Your mind becomes conditioned to experience these sensations in a more positive way. Practicing speed strengthens discipline and trains the mind to perceive discomfort as only temporary, which builds resistance against quitting. Along with developing faster foot turnover, it becomes easier to assess pace and to push through mental barriers (speed bumps). When you’re feeling discomfort during a race and your watch says you’re on a PR pace, remind yourself that this is the price you pay to achieve excellence.

Group speed sessions raise awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of your racing style and mindset. Do you go out too quickly and consequently cut the workout short? This equates to a DNF.  Are you drawn into a faster runner’s pace that you can’t sustain or start out cautiously and have too much kick left at the end? Run your own race – your own pace. Learn what that is and stick with it. Set specific speed goals based on these findings.

Speed on the Bike

When biking with a pack, do you fear speed? Is it because you lack technical handling skills? Have you worked on enhancing your cornering or downhill techniques? Speed on the bike poses risks – potholes, glass, dogs, flats, other competitors and cars, to name a few. It’s important to stay fully focused on the task at hand. Ride to your ability and don’t let your mind wander (like worrying about the run ahead of you).

Dodge Speed Bumps

In all multisport events, if you can maintain form (mental and physical) you can maintain pace, and dodge those bumps in the road. Train your mind and body to relax despite the speed. Tension reduces flow and prohibits achieving your “Ideal Zone of Functioning.” Experience the exhilaration of racing full speed ahead toward the attainment of full potential and personal standards of excellence.

When it comes to speed, remember that nothing is impossible. For inspiration, I highly recommend “The Perfect Mile,” by Neal Bascomb. For thousands of years, it was said to be humanly impossible to break the 4-minute mile. “Both physical and psychological barriers begged to be broken. The runner who would accomplish this feat (ultimately a battle with oneself, over oneself) would need to be supremely aware of his body so that he would cross the finish line just at the point of complete exhaustion. Though excruciatingly painful keep his speed, this was the moment he loved most in running, the moment when his spirit fused with the physical act of running.” That speedster was Roger Bannister.

Cheryl Hart, M.S., owner of 2nd Wind Motivation and Hart to Heart Talk Show, helps individuals, teams and businesses establish and achieve goals. Cheryl has run 45 marathons and is an All-American triathlete and duathlete, competing internationally on Team USA with podium finishes. She has received numerous awards, including National Inspirational Athlete, Kentucky’s NCAA Female Athlete of the Year, SCAC Runner of the Year and SCAC Coach of the Year. Cheryl conducts sessions face-to-face or via phone nationwide. Call (502) 693-7443, e-mail or

trisports logoThis article is the last in a series leading up to USA Triathlon's Duathlon National Championship, brought to you is the presenting sponsor of the USAT Duathlon National Championship slated for April 30 in Tucson, Ariz.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.