"I've learned that the great challenge of life is to decide what's important and to disregard everything else." H. Jackson Brown, JR., age 51 Triathletes talk so much about the body when they discuss this sport. During training, there are endless discussions about heart rate, strength, tendons, etc. On race day, there is always talk of cramping, stitches, the stomach, and more. Even when we wax on about our heroes, we use phrases like: "his lungs go down to his knees", "look at the abs on her", "did you see how cut his legs are," etc. It's all too rare that someone speaks of the most important aspect of training, racing and success - the mind. I remember reading a quote from one of the Ironman greats (it was either Mark Allen or Dave Scott - forgive me for not knowing which) and he was asked, "What do you think about while you're out there for hours on end, doing all those hundreds of miles of training and racing?" and the Godlike One answered "I concentrate on technique."
The more I speak to athletes in detail about specific aspects of their training and racing, the more I come to learn that most folks don't have their head in the game. The truth is, I didn't need to ask anyone. I know that personally in my own races, I would find myself about halfway through the swim, and I'd already be imagining a conversation after the race that I would have with one of my friends: "I was the first guy in my wave to the first mark", or "I never got a chance to draft off of anyone," or "I had a pretty good swim." It was so absurd that I was deciding how to describe a portion of the race before I had even finished that portion of the race! We all invest so much time in training - for many, 12 hours per week is de rigueur. We also invest time in technique: reading articles, coaching, watching videos, clinics, etc. Those two commitments need to be put together.
During training, and especially during a race, stay in the present. While swimming, go through a check list: "am I rolling and extending upon entry, is my elbow high in the catch, am I sculling, finishing completely and relaxed on recovery, are my toes pointed, am I kicking too much"? On the bike your mind can wander everywhere, but it should be focused on what you are doing - especially on the up stroke where you need to get the dead weight of the upward leg off the pedal. Sometimes my mind wanders, and I catch myself and bring the focus back to perfect circles. As soon as I do, I see the speedometer jump at least a half a mile per hour.
The run should have attention too: Am I forward a bit at the ankle and waist, are my strides short, am I driving the hips, is my arm swinging full, are my shoulders relaxed"? Keep your mind focused on what you are doing during training and you will develop great technique and perfect muscle memory. Stay in the present during a race and watch your times improve dramatically.