We can talk about training and pacing and nutrition all day long as it pertains to preparing for IRONMAN. But if the noggin’ ain’t right (and, yes, that’s a Texas term)… very little else will go right. The physical prep-work is done. Take some time this week to train the mind and get a solid Mental Game Plan. Here are a few mental areas to think about heading into IRONMAN Texas…
Everyone gets nervous about IRONMAN. First-timers, 10th timers, pros…EVERYONE. It’s the degree of nervousness and how those nerves affect us that varies. A little nervous is normal. A panic attack is a bit above normal. Nerves are mental stress. Not necessarily negative stress, but still stress. So we want to manage them and even use them to help us reach our goals. Between now and race day, you’ll likely have fits and spats of “nerves” that seemingly appear out of of nowhere. Go with the flow. When the nerves hit you…own them, admit it (at least to yourself) and sit through them. It’s like a good cry… it’s therapeutic just to let those unique emotions come out. We do recommend that you try to keep your nervousness, your excitement level and anxiety levels in check. The Monday and Tuesday of race week nerves are really going to hit. Then when you head to packet pickup… you’ll feel another unique set of nerves. Then race morning, a different type. Then, ironically, once the gun goes off… we seem to settle down. Ironic, isn’t it? All this to show that you will get through any nervousness you have.
Some methods to keep the nerves in check include:
- listening to music that calms your nerves and puts this race in perspective
- doing something easy that is distracting (like watching a good flick)
- getting off social media where you are in inundated with IRONMAN (seriously…delete the darn apps off your phone for a day or two!)
- prayer/church (kinda cool that Easter is the weekend before this race this year).
- talking about your nervousness with another athlete friend (preferably one that will help bring yours down not up!)
- avoiding people/situations that increase your nervousness (like the Expo!).
- avoiding the Debbie Downers that suck the life out of you (just do it this coming week).
- avoiding those who love you but for whatever reason just don’t seem to motivate you or make you question your reasons for racing, fitness and goals. This is a tough one.
- Be cautious with stimulants (like caffeine) and depressants (like alcohol) this week. Using those as tools to adjust nerves up or down is okay… just keep it within healthy limits 🙂
THOUGHTS AND IMAGERY
The thoughts and mental images we have in our brains leading into race day are very important. And to a large extent, these thoughts can be controlled. Take some time to visualize what a perfect race day would “look” like for you… from swim to bike to run to finish line. Visualize what success looks like for you. We call this “Best Performance Imagery.”
On the flip-side, take your mind through some negative stuff too (“Coping Imagery”). Visualize some of the common errors you could encounter as well as the ones that you are most fearful of. Do this more as an exercise to help you prepare better, not to induce more fear! How will you react and persevere in adverse situations? For example…how will you physically and mentally react if you start to panic in the water, have feet kicking you in the face in the lake, can’t see where you’re going in the swim and feel completely lost, can’t find your bag in T1, can’t seem to get out of a draft pack on the bike, get a flat (or two!), are frustrated with not running as fast as you KNEW you could, feel dizzy? Our Trouble-shooting plan tips (coming soon) will also address some strategies to get through common errors.
Pay attention! Where your thoughts and even your eyeballs go race day is important. First and foremost… the most obvious is to pay attention to the road ahead of you (on the bike for sure). Yes, you want to focus on your pacing, but you first want to make sure that you are riding safely and avoiding trouble, including bad sections of road and debris, which can bring you down or flat a tire. After safety… focus on EXECUTION GOALS first, METRIC TARGETS second, and OUTCOME-RELATED GOALS last.
- EXECUTION GOALS – this includes the over-arching mental/logistical effort and “plan” you have to put into the race. These include the areas that you have compete control over, like your mental focus, following your pacing plan to a tee, not drafting, paying attention to your fueling, keeping a good attitude, putting your health first, etc.
- METRIC TARGETS – This includes basically anything that has to do with pacing and numbers, like heart rate, power and pace. These are items you have a semi-control over and are closely related to your training.
- OUTCOME GOALS – You can’t control the weather. You can’t control your competition. Roll with the punches (even if it throws you hail!) and remind yourself everyone else is in the same heat, humid, windy conditions that you are. Don’t let the weather affect your execution goals, but then also recognize that it might affect your metric goals to some extent. Don’t worry about your overall placing or race time until at least two-thirds of the way through the race. If you still feel completely in control at half-way through the run, then (maybe!) you can start to take some risks and push the envelope a bit. But race your race up until this point.
GET OFF YOUR PITTY POT
Pitty Pot, Defn:
- that thing we get stuck on when things aren’t going as we had hoped/expected in an IRONMAN
- the excuse-making porcelain horse
- typically found on the side of the road on an IRONMAN Run with a frustrated triathlete stuck on it.
- something you will likely sit on a few times if you find yourself in an IRONMAN.
PITTY POT REMOVAL: IRONMAN ain’t easy. It will be harder than you expected. Even if the climate is perfect. Be ready to dig deeper into your mind than you ever have. You might find yourself at some point not hitting the targets and outcomes you wanted to. If you start to get frustrated (even angry) because the day isn’t going how you had hoped it would, and if this frustration makes you go slower than you could be going… recognize YOU’RE STUCK ON THE POT.
Life is a gift. Racing is a gift. You know all this. Remind yourself that there are many in this world who would love to be in your shoes just to be out there doing an IRONMAN! So get off your pitty pot, and… Just. Keep. Pushing.
Author: Coach Michelle LeBlanc, IRONMAN Texas finisher (9:53), a certified ISSA Sport Nutritionist, and owner of the Official Coaching business of IRONMAN Texas 2011-2014.