Mental preparation for your race day best
Visualization and mentally preparing before a race are a big part of success (or failure). It’s something I forget to coach on regularly, so here are my thoughts for this week (in the heart of race season)!
Your mind is very powerful and your thoughts have a direct impact on the rest of your body. When preparing for a race, focus on the short term process goals such as how you will feel in the water, what effort you want to settle into on the bike, executing your nutrition/hydration plan, and listening to your body throughout the race. In the days leading up to the race, visualize your race from start to finish. All aspects of the race need to be stated in the positive, see yourself feeling strong, racing with ease, being successful. If you visualize in the ‘what not to do’, you and your performance have a greater chance of falling under that umbrella instead.
Here is a potential visualization for the start to your race day: I wake up feeling fresh and well rested. I eat a breakfast that will give me energy and help fuel me for success on this day. During my warmup I feel strong and powerful, I’m a race horse in the gates. When the horn sounds at the start of my wave, I immediately dive in and start swimming with powerful strokes. I am moving fast, I’m pushing water, my technique is perfect, I think about having a good catch, I can feel myself surge forward with every stroke, when I sight I am right on target to the first turn buoy, I’m working hard and feeling good, I’m the first one to the turn buoy and easily make the turn, I’m in a groove, I’m passing each buoy one by one, my stroke still feels really good, I’m catching swimmers from the wave ahead of me with ease, I send them good thoughts as I pass, I can see the swim finish banner, I’m making good progress, I’m nearly there, I swim all the way into the shore, I push up off the ground and start running out of the water, knees high, feeling fast, feeling strong, I unzip my wetsuit with ease as I run, peel it down to my waist, cap and goggles come off,… and into transition and the rest of the race. I’m visualizing every little detail (and you can get even way more detailed than this), just keep everything in the current tense as if you are experiencing it right then AND keeping it all in the positive. This visualization process could take 5’ or 50’ depending on your level of detail. It certainly doesn’t have to last as long as your race!
To help you keep your thoughts in the positive, come into each race with a list of mental cues, words or mantras you can speak to yourself when faced with adversity on race day. Some of my favorite mental cues are:
Fight, fight, fight!
Smooth & powerful.
You are a lean, mean, racing machine!
Focus, focus, focus. Push, push, push.
This is supposed to hurt!
I am a force to be reckoned with!
You are crushing it!
I am in the best shape of my life!
I worked hard for this!
What are your favorite positive mental cues? The possibilities are endless.
It is also important, although not when visualizing, to consider all the possible things that could go wrong in a race: big waves, flat tire, switching to a duathlon, high temps, leg cramps, rain, kicked in the face, mean competitors, etc. The list is long and daunting, however, the more you can think through the possibilities, the more capable you are to create a strategy to overcome these if they actually do pop up in a race. This preparation will help keep you calm going into the race as you can both dismiss the events out of your control and have a plan of action for how to tackle each one. For example:
Big waves: Stay calm. Think about your stroke. Take breaks if needed to get your bearings.
Flat tire: Have all the tools you need with you and the knowledge to do this without assistance. Stay calm and go through the process of fixing your flat step by step.
Switching to a duathlon: No biggie! You just get to run a little more than you had planned, so find your shoes and get in a little run warmup before the start.
High temps: Slow down and adjust your goals based on the conditions of the day. Hydrate more. Slow down. Hydrate more. Slow down.
Leg cramps: Take more salt! If you’ve been downing water and no electrolytes, pump the salt to see if that helps. Also, slow down to let your body recover a bit.
Rain: Keep racing and appreciate the liquid sunshine! Find the positive (it won’t be as hot!). And be a little more cautious when out on the bike.
Kicked in the face: Stop to regain composure, appreciate that your two eyes still work, fix your goggles, and keep swimming!
Mean competitors: Not everyone is 100% nice on the race course, be the person and teammate that lifts others up even if someone else is trying to bring you down with their sour attitude or overly-competitive nature. Remind yourself you are out here to have fun
Ok, so that is just a few of the possible things that could put a bump in your day. Most of these you have zero control over going into race day, but what you do have control of is how you respond to each one. If you are prepared for the possibility and ready with a positive response, you will be able to finish with a great attitude and smile on your face.
In summary, it’s really about preparation and attitude. The more prepared you are the more likely you are to have success, and, a great attitude goes a long way on race day (and in life!).