If you are doing either Ironman Australia or the 70.3 race being held at beautiful Port Macquarie on 1 May, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that it was 3 weeks yesterday until race day.
So you’ve swum, ridden and run more kilometres than you care to imagine over recent months. Only a week or so remains before the start of the most loved, and perhaps equally most hated, phase of any race preparation – the taper.
Now is the perfect time to focus on one of the most important, but most neglected aspects to race preparation. And no, I’m not talking about buying the aero helmet or disk wheel you have had your eye on all season.
I’m talking about your mind.
What do you see, think and feel when I mention race day? It can have the greatest impact above all else on your race day performance.
Do you prepare your mind for race day as much as you prepare your body? Chrissie Wellington does –
Getting the body in shape is only half the battle. All the physical strength in the world won’t help you if your mind is not prepared. This is part of training. The part that people don’t put in their log books. The part that all the monitors, gizmos and gadgets in the world can’t help you out with.
Irrespective of how good your training has been, the ‘toys’ (sorry, equipment) you use or your nutrition on the day, how you handle yourself mentally over the next 3 weeks can make or break your race. Many races have been lost in the mind long before the finish line.
Think back to a time when you ‘lost it’ mentally in a race; when you let the negative thoughts run out of control so that your performance was ultimately affected. If you are honest with yourself, I suspect almost all of us could think of an example. I get a horrid feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of a time I allowed (negative) thoughts to spiral out of control. I know as a result that I didn’t give it everything I had (physically) on the day.
It’s a terrible experience and one no-one wants to repeat. So here are a few tips you can use to ensure you are prepared mentally, as much as you are physically, for the big day –
I’m not talking about saying ‘ommmm’ repeatedly while sitting cross legged on the floor of the change tent in transition.
A mantra – your mantra – can be any positive, meaningful statement, reinforced through repetition, which reminds you of something you need to concentrate on doing, or something you need to remember or believe.
A friend uses one which reminds him to keep things under control if he thinks that he is pushing the pace a bit too much in the early stages of a race.
My mantra is a bit more of a ‘kick-up-the-butt’ style which reminds me that I am far stronger than I imagine. And it works (for me). In fact, it has proved to be very versatile. I’ve used the same mantra for everything from races, difficult personal and professional situations to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro!
What is your mantra? What is it you need to remember, do or believe on race day? It doesn’t matter what it is. It is a personal thing and everyone’s will be different. But it will help you to maintain your focus and concentration over the course of a long day.
The importance of visualisation cannot be underestimated. Repeated thought patterns become ‘embedded’ in your brain. Like learning a new language or learning to play the guitar, if you repeat something often enough, that pattern can be become a ‘default’ setting in your brain, effectively becoming a part of your subconscious without you realising it. This is critical in a race where lots of things, both inside and outside of your control, can go wrong.
How will you respond if the crap hits the fan on race day and you suffer mechanical problems, a flat tyre, a drafting penalty or have stomach problems during the run leg?
How you respond mentally to race day ‘challenges’ can make or break your race, quite apart from the actual impact those challenges have on your race or your overall time.
I saw a perfect example of this during a long course race last season. Watching a triathlon from the sidelines near the penalty box is a great place to study human behaviour. One gentleman arrived in the penalty box, got off his bike, stretched his legs and back, had a drink, chatted – and had a laugh – with the officials and then calmly got back on his bike and headed off once he had served his time. Another man had the complete polar opposite reaction – he remained on his bike with one foot clipped in, hands tightly gripping the handlebars, tension visible in his arms. He didn’t say a word the whole time.
Now both of these blokes served the same amount of time in the penalty box. And I don’t know either of them so I can’t comment on how they perceived their experience or their race. And yes, serving time in the penalty box sucks. But I have absolutely no doubt that the first guy had a much more enjoyable experience. And, most importantly, the manner in which the second guy decided to respond to his penalty – and as we choose our thoughts, he made a decision to respond in that way – he wasted a lot of (valuable and limited) mental and physical energy in the process which could have ultimately impacted on his performance (quite apart from the actual time he spent in the penalty box).
Of course I hope that your race day is ‘challenge-free’. But you have dedicated so much time and effort to your physical training; it would be a waste not to give your mental preparation equal attention.
So make sure you have visualised how you will respond to all of the possible scenarios. See yourself responding calmly and with control to any situation which might arise. If it’s an essential part of the race preparation for the world’s fastest woman, then make it an essential part of yours too.
And when race day comes, remember to thank your friends and family who supported you during your journey and smile like Chrissie when you cross the finish line. I’ll be waiting for you there 🙂