Race days are filled with many emotions, from the nervous energy at the start line to the emotions experienced while racing. So being mentally prepared to handle these emotions is as important as it is to prepare physically. Becoming overwhelmed mentally can easily lead to distraction and a loss in speed. The Elite and seasoned veterans are the best when it comes to the mental game through a race. They know how to race with excitement but remain calm, focused and confident.
How strongly an athlete believes in his or her ability to perform a physical skill or execute a race represents their confidence. Preparation is everything, so if you prepared well by training consistently, racing to gain experience, and resting at appropriate times, you then need to feel confident that you have done everything possible to prepare yourself for your event. Confidence also starts with your most recent performances with both training and racing. So it is important to put as much effort as you can into training and racing leading into your targeted race for the chance to log great training and racing experiences.
Letting go of fears is one of the hardest things to do for some athletes. This is more common with new athletes or less experienced athletes than the elite or seasoned vets but it still plays a role with all at times. Fears are not thoughts of becoming physically injured but rather thoughts of poor performance, and what others will think about you if you have poor results. Letting go of these fears is one of the biggest steps an athlete can take. Thinking about what could go wrong or the possible outcome of the race will only take away from focusing on the task at hand.
Focus on yourself while racing, not others. Focus on the process and what you need to do to complete the task – from taking off at the start line, working through each step of the race, to crossing the finish line. Don’t get into comparisons between yourself and other runners or cyclists before and during a race. The only way to know how much fitness anyone has is after everyone has crossed the finish line. Instead, focus on how your feeling compared to your pace and work through each stage of the race as smart and quickly as you can. The more you are focused on other racers, the less focus you will have towards your goals. Race your race, not anyone else’s.
Arriving at a race and having a game plan both mentally and physically is important. Learning how to approach each race with a specific mindset and physical expectation is also important. Training events, such as your C priority races, should be approached with a more casual mindset than your A and B priority events. Lower priority events allow you to race in a more relaxed, fun atmosphere, which will teach you how to race with fewer fears. Save the serious stuff for the big events, but be prepared mentally for it all. Most importantly, learn how to have fun through the entire process.
Mike Schultz CSCS
About the Author: Mike Schultz brings more than 12 years of racing and training experience from national endurance and ultra-endurance events, mountain bike stage races, and 24 hour solo cycling events. Mike is the head coach and founder of Highland Training. He is certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Personal Trainer and as a USA Cycling Certified Coach. He continues to compete in endurance and ultra-endurance events on a regional and national level to further study the science behind sports specific training and practice what he preaches. Mike resides in the Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania, where he coaches and trains full time and year round. Follow Mike on Twitter @Highland_Mike.