[S3E4] How to mentally prepare for your triathlete with Mette Pettersen

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In this episode, I’m chatting to one lady who is just kicking butt at life! She is really amazing and we met at the 2018 Isklar Norsemen Xtreme Triathlon, which you may have come across if you've been listening to other episodes of The Adelaide podcast, including interviews with Allan Hovda and Harry Wiltshire.

[Read the 2018 Norseman race report here: Queen and King of the world’s ultimate triathlon: a smashed course record and triple winner]

Norseman is one of the world's toughest triathlons, which goes from Eidfjord to Gaustatoppen in Norway. Triathletes start by jumping off the back of a ferry at 5am into freezing fjord water temperatures and swimming 3.9km, followed by a 190km cycle and 42.2km run, and the triathletes will gain over 5000m in elevation. It’s not for the feint hearted!

In 2018, my guest today finished in the top 12 and she was the first woman to cross the finish line. She did it in under 12 hours, becoming the first woman to do so on this course, completely destroying and smashing the female course record in the process.

I'm really excited to introduce to you today, Mette Pettersen, who is Norwegian and we talk all things Norseman and mindset. The more we chatter, the more I fell in love with her and I know you will too! So I hope you really enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed talking to Mette!

{Click on the player above to listen to the podcast episode and/or read on for a detailed overview}

Adelaide: Hello, Mette! Welcome to the podcast!

Mette: Hello, Adelaide. Thank you for having me.

Adelaide: It's a pleasure to have you on. So before we dive into your journey and your story, for those who don't know who you are, please could you describe what it is you do in the world today?

Mette: Yes, I live in Norway in Oslo. It's the capital of Norway. I'm from the northern part of Norway. So I actually come from above the Arctic Circle, where there's no sun in the winter. I am a mother of two, married and I work as a full-time coach with my own company. So doing triathlon is one of my hobbies and one of my passions.

Adelaide: I can't imagine what it would be like living above the Arctic Circle!

Mette: It's very nice in the summer and in the winter it's dark.

Adelaide: Yeah, I can imagine, I've been there once. I found it really exciting, but that was just for a week!

Mette: Yeah, it's really, really nice. The scenery is just amazing. It's just that the climate makes it very difficult to do outdoor sports. So yeah, it's better here in Oslo!

Adelaide: You mentioned that you're married and have 2 children, which we're going to dive into later on about how you balance all of your training and your work and your family life. But I'm really intrigued as to your journey into triathlon and becoming a pro triathlete.

Mette: Yes, I actually think it's a coincidence that I started with triathlon. When I was a young girl until I was 18, I was a competitive swimmer. Doing a lot of swimming, all day long and all week long. So I kind of got really, really fed up with swimming. I didn't swim for I think 15 years or so. I tried so many times, but every time I tried to swim, I just went out diving and having fun instead!

So I started to do a lot of different kinds of training, including cycling, skiing, cross-country, skiing, running, etc. So I kind of got a really very active background with sports. So in 2010 I just wanted to do one triathlon for one time, just to see how it was and what happened, and that was Oslo triathlon in 2011 in August, and actually I won it! So that was the first time that I felt that I had a sport that I could do so many variations in, and I really, really, really, really like that, and also that it was outdoors! So yeah, it was kind of a coincidence.

So after that in 2011, I started with a team, Team Nakamura and went pro in 2014. That was when I was trying to get a Kona slot in 2015, but I missed that by two spots. So after that, I started training more for fun and I trained myself down, and it went two years and that's when I felt ready. I really felt the urge to do Norseman, so I haven't been in triathlon for so long, but it's been eight years now. So it's some years, but it's not been a part of my life for a long time.

Adelaide: When did you become a coach?

Mette: I became a coach, I think when I was actually that's a good question. I think it was in 2014. I started for the first time. At that time I was actually working in the training industry, in training centres and gyms, doing aerobic, spinning and all that kind of stuff. So I was working there, but I found out that if I wanted to go pro, I had to work less and train more. So it was kind of a more flexible job for me to do coaching on the side, because it gave me much better control over my time. So I started when I went pro and I also quit the training industry. So I started for myself and now it's been four years

Adelaide: Congratulations! Have you found your mindset for triathlon has helped with running your own company?

Mette: I'm a really competitive person, in kind of a good way and a bad way. Being competitive person, you're always eager to find new ways and try new things and explore things, and also to go the distance, if you know what I mean. So I think that when you start your own company, it's a great parallel to being a professional athlete, because a lot of the same issues you have to go through with quitting and not quitting and doing hard work and not getting paid. So it's a lot of the same issues you deal with.

Adelaide: What's been your biggest challenge you've had to overcome with running your own company?

Mette: I think it's not quitting and not giving up on yourself, just doing what you started and finish what you started and never quitting. If you work day out and day in, it will always get better and finally it will.

Adelaide: So a lot of perseverance!

Mette: You just have to do the job every day!

Adelaide: Some people find it difficult to find the motivation to persevere when things aren't going as well as they'd hoped, are there any techniques or methods that you use to push through that adversity?

Mette: In sports I always try to think about why I even started, to remind myself why did I start, why did I sign up for this? If I still have doubts about it, I always find people that I know have belief in me and I talk to them.

Sometimes you get really put down by your own head, because there's a lot of resistance on the road, there's a lot of resistance all the time. If you have many of those, your motivation is kind of dragging you a little bit down. So at those times, it is really important to see people that you know will support you and know will help you get back on the way again. It is the same thing with my company. Always remember why you started and remember why you never want to go back to what you had.

Adelaide: That's so interesting, because I've been recently learning the mental game, which is like a theory on mental mastery outlined by a sports psychologist called Simon Hartley, and the foundation of that mindset is knowing your why. So it's really interesting that you mention that.

Mette: I really do believe that if you don't have a strong why, I really believe that if you don't know why you actually are doing this. At one point, it's just not good enough, you will find it not important enough to pursue it and then you will quit. I really think that you have to have a strong why and you have to have a strong reason for why you're doing it and believing in that and reminding yourself of it every now and then. Maybe sometimes every day.

Adelaide: May I ask what your why is for becoming a coach, is it the same as being a triathlete?

Mette: Yes and No. What I experienced with Norseman and what I had that day, I really, really, really would like for other people to experience it. So it's kind of like paying it forward, if you know what I mean.

So I think that if I can help people pursuing their own goals and helping them achieve them, that I know what it will mean for them, not only today, but also for the rest of their lives, regardless of what other people think of their achievements. We all have different kinds of perspective on why and how we are doing this, and that's not important. What's important is what it means for you. Not for me, but for the individual.

Adelaide: I'm glad you touched upon Norseman, what first drew you to wanting to compete in this race?

Mette: It's kind of like a forbidden fruit! I think I was asked the question like hundreds of times: 'Oh, why shouldn't you do yours? Why are you not doing Norseman, you should do it? Etc, etc. And my reply to that was always new ever, ever. It's not for me. Then it becomes kind of like a forbidden fruit, something that you are not allowed to have, or you can't have, or if you have it, you will you have to swallow your own words! So it was something that grew on me and finally I saw that there was no way out of it. I just had to do it.

So last year in October 2017 was the first time, when they opened the sign up for the lottery, that I actually thought okay, I just have to sign up, I just need to feel how it feels if I get a spot. So it was more like that than anything else. I really felt that I couldn't live without having done it, because I know that if I didn't do it and my health, my body and my mind went rotten, then I would probably regret very much not doing it.

Adelaide: What happened that made Norseman something you just couldn't get out of your head?

Mette: I think it was because, I don't know, you you've been there, you have seen some of it and you have experienced the atmosphere. So in 2016 I was actually there for the first time to be supportive and I had some of my athletes there and just witnessed it all. It was kind of like, this is kind of interesting and the same thing in 2017, I went there and supported some of my athletes and I felt that I was missing out on something when I when I was just sitting in the car. So it just grew on me and I thought that I missed out, actually.

Adelaide: How did you train differently for Norsemen? Because it's so different to any other triathlon

Mette: Just one word: uphill. Uphill, uphill baby.

I always train uphill, but never at this extent that I did this year [2018]. So it was upwards. The only thing that didn't go up was the swimming, because that's kind of hard! But a lot of the biking and running training was hill, hill repeats and going up. And I didn't regret it because the hills in Norsemen were actually just a piece of cake!

Adelaide: I've never heard anyone describe Norseman like that yet!

Mette: It's kind of when people say that, 'Oh my god Norseman is so scary and so hard.' I always reply that if you are prepared, nothing is hard or nothing seems hard. It's just something that you are prepared for. So when you are prepared and you are ready, it's it's kind of a good feeling. because if you haven't done the preparation, it's kind of scary to jump off the ferry, because you know what's up and you haven't done the work, so then it's hard. I totally understand that.

Adelaide: Did you practice jumping off a ferry or a jetty into the water?

Mette: No, I was looking so forward to that! That was kind of when I realised that I was going for an adventure the whole day. That jump off the ferry, I can close my eyes and think about it. I can remember it, as it was yesterday.

Adelaide: Can you describe it to us?

Mette: I was feeling like I was like a four year old. When you go to the swimming pool for the first time and there is water, waves, current and there's a lot of things that you can play around with. I felt like that, like I was getting into a giant retreats area! It was really fun and I really felt jittery, like a four year old and I was just so looking forward to starting it.

Adelaide: You did remarkably well in the swim as well.

Mette: Yeah, I did Okay. I really tried to preserve energy and not using my glycogen stores too much. So it was a good swim, because the water was just absolutely amazing, it was so calm, beautiful, clear and crispy. So it was a really nice swim.

Adelaide: I think you're one the only athletes to run out of the water with the biggest smile on your face. It was amazing.

Mette: Yeah, I can see the picture and I can see that it was pure joy. I remember it really, really well. I was just feeling 'Oh my god, it's now, it's happening, that I'm going to work now.'

So it was a mixed up of being finished with the swim, getting out of the water and just getting on dry land and getting to the bike. It's always nice when you do triathlons to jump onto the next event, like running or swimming or biking. It's always nice to be finished with one of them.

Adelaide: Do you have a different mindset for the swim, bike and for the run?

Mette: Yes, you do. If you want to or not, you get into different mindset because of the atmosphere. In the swimming, it's all about trying to keep calm and focusing on a good rythm, not stressing out and just really having a good technique.

On the bike, it's more like okay, getting a grip and trying to find out how your legs are working and getting into a good rhythm, not over pacing yourself and also trying to find out where the others are, or how the field is looking and who's actually coming up behind you.

The biggest thing with me racing this year [2018] was trying not to having a focus on the others. So I actually didn't ask about any of the other competitors until I think I was on Imingfjell. So I didn't know how they were doing before I was pretty much into the race.

Adelaide: Did you know you were the female lead?

Mette: Not in the beginning, I didn't know that. One of the things that I told my support team, that I was really, really clear on, was do not tell me how the others are doing, I do not want any information if they are getting in, or coming near or getting further until I ask.

One of my main things with competing is trying to stay focused on my own work and not trying to get my pace ruined by that other people are chasing me, or that they are in front of me. I would just like to get in focus on how my body is capable of doing right now. And then when I'm ready, I can hear about the others.

So I didn't actually know any of the other competitors before I was well into the biking business. This is something that I've chosen to do now. I didn't do this before, because I was more occupied with what the other did and didn't do, etc, etc. I think it's better for me in my head just to focus on myself and what I'm doing.

Adelaide: I totally agree with you and this is actually what I teach my athletes as well. So you've done the cycle ride and what was the thing you loved most about it?

Mette: Oh, it's the scenery and also the tailwind!

I know even if there was a headwind, I’d probably have an even stronger bike according to the others, because I'm a strong cyclist. So I don't think that would have put me down so much and one of my biggest and best abilities is that I'm really strong minded. So I really love to dig deep and I really like to go into the pain and really work hard. But of course, when it's tailwind, I kind of get lighter, the sun gets brighter, every smile is better and it's just a better atmosphere when it's like that. But the scenery and especially the last hill up to Imingfjell, I think was really really cool, because I actually happened to pass three guys up there and they were looking really tired! I was feeling so so good that I was trying to 'Okay, just bring it on!' So you get kind of strange that way.

Adelaide: I imagine it's quite a satisfying feeling as well.

Mette: Yeah, Of course it is, I'm not 20 anymore, so on the bike if you pass a 20 year old guy that looks awesome on the bike, up a hill, it is really satisfying!

Adelaide: Now we come to the run, and it's flat for the first 25 kilometres and as you're running along the road, you start to see Gaustatoppen loom over. How does it feel when you first laid your eyes on the mountain?

Mette: What you think and what you feel immediately is, 'Oh my God, that's way too far.' Because it looks so far away when you're down there and the hill is so far.

But you know, you know that it's not so far away, you know that it's actually just a few kilometres until you get to Zombie Hill. Then when you get to Zombie hill, it's just a stroll up. So you kind of get deceived by by the look of it, because it's not so far as it looks, because I've been there and train there. So I know how far it is. But it's kind of like, 'Oh my god, am I going up there?'

So when it first hits you it's kind of like,' Oh my gosh, should I go up, take a coffee?' But it's really cool though, because you know that some of the guys are already way up there and probably are soon on the finish line. You know that you have to get up there no matter what. So it's kind of cool too.

Adelaide: How do you feel going up Zombie Hill? That's 8 switchbacks at a 10% incline for about 10km?

Mette: When I was running on the flat part, I had a lot of trouble with stitches and cramping in my stomach. So I had to run really, really slow just to move forward and when I came into Zombie Hill, the stitches were kind of going away. So I was happy that I could finally run, but when I started to increase the speed, the cramping came in my legs, really, really bad. So I couldn't run as fast as I wanted to.

It's kind of mental when you are up there, because you know there are five switches and then you are to the cut off. You know that for every step you take, you get one step nearer to the finish line. You know you just have to keep on working and pain is just temporary, everything goes away and if it doesn't go away, too bad for you!

It's just a matter of dealing with things that are happening right then and now, you just have to keep on working. You know that if you quit, if I would have quit then, it was never an option. It's never an option unless you faint and go down. But as long as you have your head on your shoulders and can think, quitting is never an option.

Adelaide: Do you have any mindset techniques, so you can dig deeper and move past that?

Mette: Yeah, I always cheer on myself. I always say positive things to myself, stupid things like 'Oh my god Mette, you are so awesome, you're so cool. Come on, let's get going! You are you're getting there!'

So it's kind of like just peppering yourself with positive things, because you are actually moving, you are getting forward and the goal is getting nearer and nearer. You just have to keep on going and pushing yourself. I actually don't think that I had one simple negative thought through my mind through the whole race, and that is something that rarely happens.

You always have some mental downs, but I actually didn't have that. So that's kind of strange, but it was because it was really, really hard and I kind of used the pain in a good way, to focus on other things. I turn the negative into a positive thing, like if I have really sore legs or something, it was easier for me to focus on that than on my cramps. So I switched between them and used it to drive me forward.

Adelaide: So you focused on the thing that caused you the least amount of issues?

Mette: Yeah, I also focus on trying to motivate myself and just saying things to me that make me feel good. When you say things out loud, you programme your subconscious to believing that this is good. Repeating these positive things is something that everybody should do before doing something really, really hard, is to speak out loud to themselves and tell themselves a lot, why they are doing this and how awesome they really are. The subconscious is a big issue when you race, a really big issue, because it will kick in and if your subconscious is not game on, you will probably stop and walk, and do all those stupid things that you will regret.

Adelaide: I 100% agree with you! I want to talk to you about the finish, but first I'm really intrigued by what you just touched upon there, with preparing your subconscious for racing. How do you do that?

Mette: This time it was really hard, because the week before my race, I was actually all by myself, my family had gone to Stavanger, another place in Norway and I was home alone.

When you are all alone, you're kind of left alone with your own head. So what I actually did was to talk with my coach and mentor, and make him remind me about why, what my figures are and what I'm capable of, and helping me get on to my path again, and just stay focused and knowing that this would not be a problem at all, I would get up there and it will be awesome, no matter what. For me, it's more like talking to people and to be surrounded by people that know you and want to see you succeed.

Adelaide: So now you're on top of Guastatoppen and climbing up those final steps, could you take us through that moment?

Mette: Oh, that was one of the best parts, from the end of Zombie Hill up to Gasutatoppen. It was really, really cool, because I knew that when I came there, I knew, I just knew that if I came there first, I will be the first woman to the top. I don't know why, I just knew it. It was really strange to go there, because if I stepped wrong, I would cramp front side, backside and in my calves. So it was really hard to walk and to try to walk fast and to pace myself, because I really had to keep my mind on where I put my feet down.

I think I also got new new energy there, because I knew there was only like 4.2 kilometres to the top. So it's kind of crazy, because you can almost feel that you can can reach the top or grab the top. It's so near, you just have to climb a little bit first. At that time, you're actually really tired and you get really emotional too. You think about all of the time you have spent training and preparing and repeating everything that you have to do. You think about all of the people you have trained with, all the people you have had moments with in the course, all the ups and all the downs, and everything that you actually experienced since you started this. So it's kind of like having your life passing through slow motion. I was just embracing it and feeling that I was so over the top privileged that I could do this. Even though I'm 44, I'm not 24 anymore.

We have an athlete in Norway called Gunn-Rita Dahle, she's a really, really good mountain biker and she's actually the same age as I am. Gunn-Rita Dahle is an Olympic gold medalist and multiple world champion, and after the last championship gold she won in the Europeans, she said that her body was just awesome and she was just going for another goal. She was just putting it out there and that's kind of how you feel when you're 44 and your body suits you like it's 24, you feel like nobody can conquer you and you have the power to do whatever you want to do. That's because the body is so well trained, so tuned for what you're doing, that it's kind of like your temple. You get really grateful and that is what fills you when you go up those steps and you take like 100,000 steps and every step counts, and you just feel pure joy for just doing it and just getting the job done as you planned. It's really fulfilling.

Adelaide: You're making me so excited, I want to do Norseman now! When you crossed the finish line, you've already gone through all of this emotion, how did it then feel when you realised you'd won the women's race and smashed the women's course record by 48 minutes?

Mette: I didn't actually know what the record was before I started, so I didn't know that I smashed it with 48 minutes. What I said to my support team when we were running is that I want to be top 10! Get me up there, I want to be top 10!

So that was what I was trying to figure out, which number did I get and I was number 12. I didn't get disappointed or anything, because I didn't know what other people had done before and what number the other girls had come, but it was kind of cool to know that I actually beat so many other guys. It's fun, especially when they're so much younger than me!

Adelaide: My friend has a Facebook group and has a podcast called The Tough Girl Podcast, and I posted your result in there and we were all cheering you on!

Mette: That's fun. That's nice. I think it's awesome. I think it's really important to have female role models in sports. Just go for whatever you want and don't let anybody stop you, if you want to do something, just do it. Don't let anybody tell you that it's impossible or it can't be done. All people are different, so let people do whatever they want. If they feel that they can do that, I think it's awesome. I think that really one day, we will have both female and male Olympic gold medalists that are way past 40. I also believe that one day will have female athletes that actually beat the guys, for example, marathon and ultra running.

I think it's headed that way. I can see that in my coaching, that some of the girls they really have the capacity to push themselves really, really well. Sometimes you have to hold them back. I'm not saying the guys are not good in pushing themselves, but I can see a difference in some females that are really, really good in pushing themselves and going beyond what is actually capable of they are capable of. I think it's interesting.

Adelaide: I agree, it's really interesting. I also think now there's a much more supportive platform for women to kind of springboard off than there ever has been.

Mette: I think so too, but I think there's a long way still to go.

Adelaide: Definitely.

Mette: Yeah, really long way. But we're getting there.

Adelaide: We're going to talk a little bit about family in the Wildfire Round, but before we go into that, is there anything else that you'd like to add in the context of what we've spoken about today?

Mette: There is probably a lot, but if I get talking we will never finish!

Adelaide: Okay, so now onto the Wildfire Round! They are just a few quick questions that I ask my guests at the end to find out a little bit more about you!

The first one is: How do you balance family, work and training? Or maybe just your number one tip for balancing all these three things?

Mette: I think planning and structuring your week is really important. To put in everyday training wherever you can and not being so hard on yourself, that you have to train this and that and this and that, but be happy with with every training session you get, 20 minutes is better than nothing.

Adelaide: When you think of an athlete being successful, who first comes to mind?

Mette: There are several, I have to mention female, because they are awesome. It's Mirinda Carfrae, I really think she's awesome. Daniela Ryf. Really, really awesome both of them. I just can't wait for the championship to happen, so we can see what happens. I think it's really awesome that Mirinda is actually back from maternity, so I really cheer for her.

Adelaide: What's the one item that you can't race without?

Mette: I don't have any actually. It's if my race suit, of course. But I don't have any things that I I would die if I didn't have. It's all the equipment that I have. Of course, you need training shoes, you need jogging shoes, and you need a wetsuit and you need a helmet and all those stuff. But I don't have a hang up on one item.

Adelaide: Excellent! Finally, if you could have a billboard, what would it say and where would you put it?

Mette: Oh my god! This is hard! I will put it up somewhere where everybody could see and it would say something like, 'The way you live your life, you will have your life. Choose it wisely.' Or something like that. feasible.

Adelaide: I love it! Mette it's been an absolute dream having you on! I loved you ehen I met you at Norsemen and after this, I love you even more!

Mette: That's very nice of you! Thank you!