RACING IS MENTAL
By Andrew Peabody, Ironman Certified Coach
As race season in the northern hemisphere quickly approaches (I know some have already started), we are all training like mad and preparing to really push our physical limits on race day. But how many of you are training just as hard to push your mental limits on race day, too?
One of the most overlooked aspects of competitive training, especially for age group athletes, is honing the mental skills required to make that extra push when the time comes to perform to our best ability. We spend countless hours running, cycling, swimming, whatever activities our chosen sport requires, but how many of us actually block out the time in our busy schedules to take some quiet time alone and really focus on developing the mental skills that will take us to the next level?
Self talk and visualization are two methods used by elite athletes and coaches to reach performance goals that might seem out of reach to most. I personally have found that when I have taken the time to really work on these skills my results have exceeded even my own expectations but I, too, often get so absorbed in work, training, and life in general that this aspect of my training gets neglected. I always regret it when that happens and I strive to be more diligent in the future.
For me, the best time to do these exercises is just before bed, when I am relaxed and can plant thoughts and images in my mind for my subconscience to absorb as I sleep. It doesn't involve a lot of time but is tremendously effective when done regularly. I find that alternating the self talk and visualization exercises can help with the focus by minimizing the mental clutter of trying to do too much simultaneously.
Self talk is a means of convincing the subconscience of the possibilities of overcoming obstacles during training and racing. The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between the possible and the impossible. The more you talk to yourself and repeat certain "mantras", the more readily you will actually believe them. I use short positive phrases like "today is going exactly as planned", "today is my best day ever", "when I need more speed I've got it", I feel stronger and faster than I have ever felt", etc. By repeating these phrases over and over they become imbedded in your mind and are ready to come forward when you are struggling. Choose 5 phrases and repeat them to yourself multiple times before sleep on your self talk days. Let them really soak in and bring them up during difficult training sessions to find what you need to push past the pain.
Visualization is the other key mental training aid and can be used in many ways. It is simply what it sounds like.....visualizing yourself doing what you want to achieve. During these sessions, take the time to visualize key parts of your event. Picture yourself running smooth and strong to the finish line. Picture yourself moving through the field with ease. Plant these images in your mind and watch them come true on race day. Another great use of visualization is to think about various things that could go wrong and visualize yourself solving the problem, overcoming the crisis, and moving on. Some refer to this as solving problems in advance, eliminating panic. Picture yourself changing that flat tire with ease. Picture yourself quickly stopping to tie a loose shoelace and getting right back into the flow of competition instead of looking down repeatedly, wondering if you should stop, wondering if you can keep going without tripping.
All it takes is 15minutes relaxing in bed before drifting off to sleep to do these things. It isn't even necessary to do it every night. What is important is to schedule it as a part of your training. Make it a priority, even if only 2-3 times per week. Consider it just as important as that weekly track session or that long bike ride. Results will show you that it is just as important, maybe more important. My coaching motto is, "If you can believe it, you can achieve it".
About the guest author:
Andrew Peabody is the founder of Breakaway Multisport. Participating in triathlon for 25 years and 12 years of coaching in the sport have given Andrew the experience needed to guide athletes from first timers to Kona Age Group champions.