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It doesn’t matter how fit you are before the race; physical fitness and skills in themselves are not enough for success. Mental skills often revolve around simple key words and actions.
“It is important to train your mental strength during training as well because you need to prepare for the unexpected and use it as a tool to motivate yourself during the race when you are on the verge of giving up.”
Here are some guiding principles which should be rehearsed in race simulation as part of your training schedule.
1. Key words and Mantras
Your internal dialogue is key to your success. Telling yourself “I can do it”, or “keep going, (insert your name)” can go a long way in motivating yourself when you are on the verge of giving up during the race.
Or let’s say you panicked and hyperventilated in the water because someone hit off your goggles or swam over you. Say to yourself “Exhale, exhale, exhale”, or “Swim smooth, swim smooth” can help to calm you down so that you are able to focus on the rest of your swim. Test it out and find a trigger word or phrase that works for you.
Work with a coach to have several key words or mantras that you will focus on to stay in the moment and execute the plan. A coach can’t help unless he has insights into your internal dialogue and the struggles you face
2. The night before
Lay out all your gear and equipment the night before your race so that you can have a visual check of your packing list. Strap your timing chip on your leg before you sleep. Fill your water and electrolyte bottles the night before.
Preparing all these the night before means less things to do in the morning. Leaving your preparation to the last minute will only leave you panicking if you forgot something, affecting your performance on race day.
Before you hit the sack, do some breathing exercises or yoga to calm yourself down. Sleep early so you can be fresh for the race.
3. Before the race
Set multiple alarms if you need to. Give yourself ample time to prepare before the race. Factor in time for breakfast, getting to the start line, and toilet breaks.
Mental rehearsal. Everyone will have a mechanism for them on race day. For me, I already knew that I had done the work. I had a certainty that I can do nothing more but focus on what is ahead of me. Before the race, I will go to a quiet spot and relax in the water and bring all my thoughts together.
4. Do not be coached by the whatsapp chat group!
It is not a good idea to talk to a lot of people before your race for last minute tips because you will end up having too many voices in your head telling you to do different things.
You will be tossed here and there by different opinions and advice. Hence, there is no use in getting last minute advice contrary to your own plan. The only person you should be speaking to is your Coach. Practice on race day what you have been doing repeatedly during trainings.
5. Suck it up and keep going
Do not blame it on the circumstances. What matters is how you react to it.
Over my years of coaching, I realised that many people ambush themselves on race day when the voices in their head takes over and they lose sight of their race objective.
An good example would be Bryce Chong, the current National Champion. During the Singapore International Triathlon back in 2015, when coming out of transition from swim to bike, and one of his cycling shoes fell off. However, he remained calm, and eventually won the race with only one cycling shoe for the bike leg. He lost his glass slipper but he carried on.
At TriEdge, we often rehearse contingency planning. We teach our athletes how to deal with unexpected circumstances that are not within their control such as a lost shoe, goggles being kicked out during the swim, or missing a bottle from the bike. You need to practice this type of race simulation so that you will not panic in case the worst happens to you during race day.
6. Learn from your mistakes
“There is no such thing as a bad race, provided you learn from your mistakes.”
After completing the race, while your thoughts are still fresh in your mind, write down what has worked for you, mistakes that you have made and how to avoid them in future, and what needs work. You will only improve if you review, reflect and act upon your weaknesses.
7. Engage a Coach
A good coach will help you develop a race week plan, including a detailed last 48 and 24-hour strategy from race day, and helping you with figuring out key words and “mantras”. He or she will be able to help you bring it all together for the big show.
To sum up, it is not about perfection. Very few races go entirely to plan, it is the mental adaptability from all the training and race rehearsals that will keep you in the moment dealing with your immediate priorities. It’s your race, with your unique attributes that you brought to race day, don’t try to be someone else.
Lost a shoe? So what? Don’t turn back, keep going.
He has training and recovery tips & tricks from his 53 years of bike riding. He has done more than 100 Ironman races and 6000 hours of athlete coaching including the use of active compression technology.
He loves to connect and bring the endurance community together.