G.U.T.S intern, Danielle Wahl, had the opportunity to interview Joseph Umphenour, a professional triathlete who lives and trains in Colorado Springs. Joe was the top U.S. men’s finisher at the 2001 World Championships. Despite suffering various injuries, he was able to make the 2003 world championship team. A fifth-place finish at 2003 ITU World Cup race in Gamagori, Japan, was his best ever and favorite race. In addition, he had a stellar performance at the 2008 USAT Elite National Championship to finish second overall in the race. He has a positive outlook on life and training, and it is hard to catch him at a moment without a smile on his face. In his interview, Joe discusses how maintaining a positive attitude and mental toughness has played a role in his success.
I started as a competitive swimmer when I was eight-years-old, have always been able to run, and got into cycling in my teens. I dabbled a bit in triathlon at that time but focused mostly on swimming so that I could earn a scholarship for college. After I finished my final year of varsity swimming at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I decided to give triathlon a real go since I no longer had to swim exclusively.
My favorite is the bike because I enjoy riding so much and my least favorite is the swim because I hate being cold. I overcome the fear of cold water by telling myself I will be out of the water eventually and on the bike to warm up. This runs contrary to what my best legs would be, since my swim will always put me near the front and my bike leg is usually my weakness in the race.
Ishigaki Island, Japan: Such a great venue because it reminds me of Hawaii without all the tourists and much better sushi. The Japanese are a very enthusiastic crowd and as a people they are very polite and respectful. I just love being in Japan.
Injuries are always the biggest hurdle because they are an obstacle that prevents you from moving forward. While I am eager to move forward, it tests my patience to have to slow down and do what is necessary to allow my body to heal properly so that it can move forward again. I have personally suffered from a few serious injuries in the past ten years, and I have leaned about patience. As I get older, it takes longer to heal and time out means money lost as a professional triathlete, which is frustrating, but it is important to keep positive. This is the main thing-stay positive even during tough times.
To continue to do this sport and battle through the injuries that inevitably arise, mental toughness is what keeps you going and helps you keep the faith that you can continue to keep it up. It’s what keeps you in the water when you’d rather go home and eat waffles. At the end of the day, I am much more satisfied with myself if I fulfill my daily goals. Although waffles are great, sticking to what I need to do to train is much more rewarding.
I set a season goal of a race or ranking and then set intermediate goals along the way so I always have something to look forward to in the near future. Having lots of small goals makes achieving the larger goal easier to digest and achieve.
What I said in the question above with an expansion of the idea. Use the same system in a race. Instead of trying to take in the whole race all at once, think of it as a series of steps/goals to achieve along the way. The finish will come sooner than you think!
Contact us today to learn how to build your mental toughness like a pro! Also, we would love to interview you to hear more tips about how you are applying mental toughness to your training and competitions!