One of the most overlooked aspects of training for sport specific events (besides recovery) is mental preparation. Too often, I’ve seen a well-trained athlete fail to meet their performance expectations due to neglecting this training target.
When you embark on training for a marathon, triathlon or obstacle course race, every training checkbox has to be checked. Starting with a carefully laid out program accounting for your unique lifestyle is critical. Whether you’re competing just to finish or to stay healthy and fit, consistent training and recovery are key habits to create. After getting that down, most athletes stop there. They fail to look at the bigger picture.
Think about taking it one step further.
How does training for this event connect to your life? Who or what are you going to think about as the distance increases?
Recently, I addressed this mental dilemma with one of my long distance athletes. An “under-performance” in his first race of the season; a “low priority” race have you, we discovered that something needed to change. Headed into the weekend, he was beat down from a busy week of work and training that had not been his typical consistency. He showed up to the race late and had to rush the staging, barely being able to get his goggles set before the start of the swim. How do you think this story ends that day? Not so good, but still a PR.
Needless to say, we regrouped. After a lengthy coaching call and uncovering all aspects of the experience, I knew I could do better to prepare him mentally. I knew it was time to adjust his expectations … he knew it. Yet it wasn’t just the expectations, it was also his mindset entering the event. He had to dig a little deeper.
Performance is about mindset.
If you’re racing for just a PR, you’re not getting it. The first step in mental preparation is creating your mindset. Discovering the intrinsic motivation behind your training commitment and identifying it from the beginning becomes a make-or-break moment. Who or what are you racing for? How does this commitment make you a better human being?
Going out there because it’s something to check off your bucket list is going to leave you walking at the end of an Ironman event. What I’m suggesting is that you think deeper. What’s the point? You’re going to face your best self (hopefully not your worst) thirty-five miles into your fifty-mile ultra marathon, whether you like it or not. What are you going to call on? As your butt and legs are cramping at mile ninety of the Ironman bike leg, don’t you think you’ll need a mental boost?
How you approach training sessions matter.
Secondly, how you approach training sessions each day matters tremendously. You must stay positive and optimistic as you approach each day, develop rituals. Understand the performance goals for each workout are important, but they don’t dictate your mindset. Athletes who struggle seem to have high expectations of each and every performance. Never letting one bad day go. Unfortunately, approaching your training in this way leads to disappointment after disappointment. It’s your own fault. Train your mind to be positive. Look at each race as an experience. An experience you’ll probably never get again.
Personally, when I race these days, I think about the people who inspire me the most. Not just with my training, but those who push me to live a better life. The athletes I’m fortunate enough to coach and the exciting opportunities I have to keep growing professionally. What I know is, gratitude can cultivate the athlete’s mindset and our perception of everything matters. For me, the majority of my thoughts are cued to the people who are most important in my life. Like many of us endurance junkies, my wife has supported me at just about every endurance event. Waiting around on an Ironman course takes training in itself. These are the types of thoughts that keep me going, the deeper motivation to work my hardest. My best advice for you is to think about what truly matters as the distance gets greater and as your training progresses.
The results may surprise you.
Sharing this perspective with my athlete, he took some of my thoughts and executed at his last Olympic distance triathlon. Mind you this was his first Olympic distance, he finished in 2:45 blowing expectations on all three of his projected paces for each sport. His paces were almost faster than his first sprint, which is wild because the distance was almost double. Most likely this was a testament to his self-reflection. Where do you think his confidence is now?
What you can take from this is that your mindset matters. Create your mindset around the important things in your life. Apply it to game day and in your training sessions. When you begin to approach your workouts with positivity, you will dictate your own success.