I still remember the spot on the Ironman Canada course in 2007 (my first Ironman race) where I began my mental war. It was a spot on the rollers between Richter Pass and Cawston where I was riding uphill, into a headwind – not an optimal point for a 140-pound-something athlete. I never had the thought of quitting – I had engrained the notion of finishing at all costs (yes, even if I had to take a nap and finish in 16:59) – but I distinctly recall saying to myself “there’s no f-ing chance I’m ever doing this again.” Today is June 7th 2012, 2 weeks before what will be my 5th Ironman race.
Fast forward to the Awards Ceremony for that same race in 2007, where Lisa Bentley took the stage after her third victory at IMC. She spoke about the adversities, physical and mental, that she overcame in her training leading up to Penticton. She said that she did not have a perfect day, only that she overcame her adversities better than her competitors. And most importantly (to me, at least) she reminded us that “there’s victory in finishing what you start.”
A year later, when I met Lisa in Vancouver at the ITU World Championships, I had her autograph my Speed Theory jacket with the words “There is victory in finishing what you start :)” (yes, there's a smiley face)
For most age group triathletes, our minds can play terrible games with us the days leading up to, and even during, important races during our season. We are not professionals at our sport; no paycheque is riding on our placing that day, and, even if chasing an elusive Kona slot or National Team qualification, there will always be the chance to “come back and fight another day.”
But we put a lot of training into what we do, and ultimately we want to perform our best on race day. Here are some thoughts that I’ve learned from professional athletes, training partners, and other resources on how to overcome the voice in your head that says “you can’t” or “I don’t want to anymore.”
1. First of all, if you’re not on Twitter, open an account. Follow athletes that are faster than you – they tweet some really inspiring stuff.
2. In the days leading up to a race, recall the victories you achieved during your training sessions. Weekly hours logged and the ratio of workouts finished versus those missed pale in comparison to those 3 or 4 great training days that you had. Remember those ones.
3. Being nervous and having butterflies leading up to a race is a good thing – it signifies that the race means something to you.
4. Have a song, a poem, a tag line, a picture, a something that helps you focus and brings you inspiration. Or a couple.
5. On race day, you can be miserable, or you can have a good time. I suggest you chose the latter.
6. When the going gets tough, count to 100. If you succeed on reaching 100, things probably won’t be tough any longer (if they are, keep counting).
7. Remember why you are doing this whole triathlon thing. If you don’t write a Season Plan at the start of each year, start doing it now. If you don’t have long term goals (2013 will see the end of my current “5-Year Plan”) start developing some.
8. Read! Most professional athletes maintain a blog, and some have even written books on their battles and victories.
9. Sure, races don’t always go well, and everyone knows that sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our victories. Finishing a race should bring a sense of accomplishment and help build confidence.
10. Believe in the process. Results will follow.