One of the most overlooked aspects of training for endurance 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 or long distance triathlon every target has to be analyzed and given a prescription. 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 had not been as consistent. 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 go a little deeper.
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 is a make or break moment. Who or what are your 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 is cramping at mile ninety of the Ironman bike leg, don’t you think you’ll need a mental edge?
Secondly, how you approach training day and sessions each day matters tremendously, You must stay positive and optimistic as you approach your days. Understand the performance goals for each workout are important, but they don’t dictate your head. 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.
When I race these days, I think about my dear friend Ken Barnes whose birthday would have been just this past week. His energy and how he made people feel inspires me. Ken an athlete who raced half marathons regularly is someone I connected with since the day I met him. I believe that if I just keep running I’ll somehow become a little more like Ken. I also think of my family, Lindsay in particular. How proud I know she is of me when I’m out there. I’m blessed to have her in my life. These are the types of thoughts that keep me going – the deeper motivation. Trust me there are plenty more. My best advice for you is to think about what truly matters as the distance gets greater.
Sharing this perspective with my athlete he took some of the 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 is 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 your training sessions. When you begin to approach your workouts with positivity you will dictate your own success.