How to increase your pain tolerance

dealing with pain

Become comfortable with the uncomfortable

As a triathlete, you’re going to encounter pain. You are also expected to tolerate and manage that pain. Even embrace it. The experience of pain is a complex combination of physiological and psychological factors. It is both a sensory an emotional experience that some of us deal with better than others.

If you haven’t put in the hours training and you don’t feel prepared for your race, you are going to suffer. It’s going to hurt no matter how mentally tough you are. That being said, your ability to tolerate the pain of exertion is as much mental as it is physical.

If you find yourself dreading the pain of race day or find that at the end of the race you had more to give, it’s time to explore the psychology of suffering. Here are three of the most important things you can do to go deeper into the pain cave and increase your level of pain tolerance.

Trust it will pass

If we establish an end to the pain it helps us feel we’ve gained control. Trying to gain control is a way of managing your feelings of discomfort. Often it’s the emotional experience of the pain that convinces you to give up.

On race day we think that the quickest way to eliminate those uncomfortable emotions and regain control is to stop. Often it’s the emotional experience of the pain that convinces you to give up. In your mind you need to establish an end that lets you know you’re still in control and this pain won’t last forever.

Before you start have a firmly thought mantra that will get you through that moment of suffering. A mantra that reminds you that the suffering is finite.

The wheel of pain caters for every emotion to enter your mind during a race. Imagine being able to embrace the tough times because you know it will make a full circle to a feeling of strength, power and positivity.

Talk to yourself

Speaking of mantras, your thoughts direct your focus. When you focus on the pain it makes you want to stop. When you’re at the peak of suffering and it’s taking everything you have to keep moving, sometimes the most effective pain coping strategy is to repeat something over and over. By this I don’t mean repeating something negative like, ‘I hate this, why am I doing this or I can’t wait for this to be over!’ I mean repeating something worthwhile. Doing this occupies your mind with information other than focusing on the pain you’re feeling in your body.

An example of this coping strategy is to choose a positive cue word that you repeat to yourself. Repeating words like, ‘strong,’ ‘powerful,’ ‘smooth,’ or ‘controlled’ can help you get through those moments when your body wants to stop.

Another strategy is to count your strokes, stride or cadence. Count to 20 then repeat the process. By doing this you’re giving your brain something else to think about. Your brain must process information instead of processing the feeling of pain.


Allow yourself to accept and embrace the pain means you’ll handle it far better then if you try to fight it. Expect to encounter pain. Consider it a ‘good thing.’ Pain is weakness leaving the body.

Don’t let the uncontrollable factors i.e wind, heat, rain or hills influence your perception of pain. It may not fit into the storyline you’ve created in your head, but accept it and what race day brings.

The pain of race day is part of the reward. The effort of what it takes to get through your race is part of the victory. If it was easy the effort wouldn’t be worth it. If it was easy everybody would do it. Overcoming the challenge is part of the battle and part of the challenge is dealing with pain.


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