LESSONS FROM A PRO - Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall

“We actually do a Highland Games on one of the days of our training camp in a park in San Diego. We are tossing stand up paddle boards for cabers.  The locals dig it.”

When you start an interview on a triathlon podcast on the subject of caber tossing, it really could go in any direction.

But thankfully it set the tone perfectly for a really entertaining and informative conversation with multiple XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson and her husband, the sports psychologist Doctor Simon Marhsall.

Matt Wright/Breedfreak photo

Matt Wright/Breedfreak photo

Together, they have written the brilliant The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion which brings together their wealth of experience and knowledge from the academic and sporting worlds.

We moved from caber tossing, to XTERRA training, from sports psychology to…Poo implants. You’ll have to listen out for the podcast to hear more about that! In the meantime, here are some of their training and racing tips. 


“Everything in XTERRA has a foundation on strength, so if you can build the strength first and then put the speed onto that, that will get you your best results in XTERRA.

“In XTERRA, you’re up and down hills, you’re in and out of rocks and roots, so your musculature needs to be able to cope with that.   You need to do a LOT of strength work!   So a lot of work in the gym, functional strength work, so that you have muscle durability and dynamic motion patterns, so that you are economical working in a lot of different planes of motion. 



“You should do a lot of hill training.  I do a lot of torque training on the bike which is low cadence climbing, like 45rpm, so it’s almost like weight training to make your muscles very durable. But you have to get off the bike and run effectively, so I will do a lot of plyometric work like hopping, jumping, skipping, hill bounds.

“While the makeup can be similar to regular triathlon training, the emphasis is going to be different.  So if I had ten hours a week to train, I would be spending two hours in the gym, one lifting heavy and one lifting functional.  I would be getting two structured swim, bike and run workouts in, including hill repeats off the bike as one of the run workouts.”  


“Having a persona helps you set aside the personality traits that aren’t conducive to racing and competing and performing.  Paddy McGinty is an Irish MMA fighter that I train and race under. 

“My background is in acting, so I was used to creating characters.  You use points of inspiration to help you form that character and find people or environments that are most like the person or the type of traits you feel you need to race.

“Look at videos, or films, and study the traits they have, so their body language, the way they speak and move, how they look at things to develop the character like that. “


“There is some good scientific basis about why it works and there are some really good cognitive reasons about alter egos and that thinking about yourself in the third person which have a performance enhancing value.” 

photo credit: Sean Hill

photo credit: Sean Hill


“There are worse things to be addicted to, but when you are forced to take time off from racing and training, you truly learn what is important in your world and what isn’t.

“A lot of the dependency is linked to body image because we are constantly running around in Lycra.  Lots of people get into the sport to lose weight, you are able to enjoy more food when you are training and exercising, so when you no longer have any of that, it’s a real challenge for athletes because you put weight on, you feel fat.  

“Many people who get into triathlon have an addictive personality, so often they are using this as a form of therapy, which you don’t want to take away from them.  But at what point does it become detrimental to their health and wellness and to those around them?  It’s making them aware of that situation.”


It’s very common to have post-race blues, so one of the biggest things you can do is realise that most people go through this.
— Lesley Paterson

SIMON: “Dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in our brain, squirts (metaphorically speaking) on our brain when we think about something exciting, like a race, coming up.   So the dopamine mechanics are getting us ready, but when we actually do the race, sometimes the spike in dopamine is lower than it is when we are looking forward to it.  So we can often feel a bit of a come down.    

“The people who are most-prone to this are the bucket list athletes who might just want to do a one-off Ironman for example.   So having systems in place can protect you against the crash once a big event is over.”

LESLEY:  “Its very common to have post-race blues, so one of the biggest things you can do is realise that most people go through this.  That can make you feel better and make you realise you’re not totally weird.   

“Then it’s about having another goal.  That doesn’t have to be a sporting goal. It might be a hobby, so if you have always wanted to learn to sing, go to three singing lessons and set a goal of learning a song.   

“We live very structured lives as triathletes and that’s what we love about it, so find that structure in another thing.  It’s the same when you are injured. You need to set up your life to support that level of structure to keep you sane and stop that depression from setting in.”




“You can only truly learn to push to the edge if you do it frequently, because it changes the chemistry in your brain.  

“I create really hard workouts in training, that I am supposed to fail., so I know what it’s like to push myself to the brink.  Then I know I can deal with it on race day.

“In a race it’s about asking yourself in every moment are you giving 100% effort and attitude? Those are the only things in your control.  So as long as in every moment you are giving everything you can to finish that race knowing that you haven’t thrown the towel in. “


“When you are hurting or something is unpleasant, your chimp brain Is thinking “what the hell are you doing to me?“  It wants you to stop doing it as a survival message. 

“But the computer brain, which runs all of our automatic habits, can win that fight. It is about taking up band width in mind terms, to crowd out your chimp.  Count over and over again or sing the same verse in your head.  Counting seems remarkably simple but it is quite complex about why it works and it really does work.”

Listen out for the interview with Lesley Paterson and Dr Simon Marshall on the Oxygen Addict Triathlon Podcast in December 2018.

Helen MurrayComment