After training for an event for weeks or months, once the gun goes off, there is nothing left to do but “go.” Racing is often over-simplified in all the wrong ways (just go hard…) and just as often over-complicated without need (check your power, heart rate, descend your mile times…). Over the coarse of an endurance event, inevitably your mind will wander, but try to stay conscious of what you are doing. Instead of having a checklist, allow your tactics to fluidly flow through your thoughts. These are a handful of the things I think about while competing, and a few strategies (mental and physical) that help get me to finish line in the least amount of time possible.
1. It IS a race
For a country that was founded on rebellion and ruthless conquest, our society is surprisingly passive
passive aggressive and non-competitive. Growing up, I can hardly recount the number of times I was told, “it’s not a race!” Often times, it’s not a race, and this was good advice when I was hastily charging through activities, resulting in carelessness and errors. Though hearing this over and over again, from the time we are young, may make us somewhat complacent. Here’s the reality of it – racing is a race. Those people all around you are trying to beat you, and you should be trying to beat them. Okay, so quite a few people who sign up for competitions have done so with the goal of simply completing the event – this is a great goal. Others are there to improve upon previously set personal times or so they say – passive-aggressive?, so the head-to-head factor is reduced. Even still, it is a race – so race smart and race hard.
2. Keep it Simple
Don’t get me wrong, competing can be complex. You have to moderate your efforts; know who you are competing against – what are their strengths and weaknesses and what you’ll have to do to capitalize; know how to maximize your own strengths and limit your losses on your own weaknesses. But there is a way to simplify the whole thing.
The goal in racing is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible – plain and simple. During any event, I occasionally ask myself, “Am I doing what I need to right now in order to get me to the finish as quickly as possible?” This question encompasses nearly every element of the race. Am I loose? Am I fluid? Am I pushing myself as hard as I need to at that given moment? In it’s most basic sense, if the answer to this question at any time during the race is “no” – then it’s time to make an adjustment.
Most of us are not good at really focusing for even short periods of time – and with all the technology we are surrounded by, and the informational overload it creates, we have gotten even less good. We are constantly distracted in our day-to-day lives, and this behavior pattern expresses itself in many parts of our lives (case in point, the other day while walking my dog, I waked past a couple also walking their dog. I was in ear-shot just long enough to hear the woman say to the distracted, iPhone fondling man, “Will you put that thing away for five minutes, please?).
Even a relatively short endurance event requires you to do one repetitive activity repeatedly. It is amazing how quickly the mind will wander if we let it. FOCUS. When I race, I try (with varying degrees of success) to reach a sort of Zen state where I am focused on the activity at hand without actually thinking about it in specifics – something that is hard to really describe. Feel your body and stay conscious. Check in occasionally, bring yourself back to the moment and actually think about what you are doing and why. Is my stride or pedal stroke fluid? Are my shoulders loose?
Racing is a great way to actually be in the moment. Whatever I am distracted by will be there when I cross the finish line, but for the time being, a rare occasion, I have only one thing to think about. When I catch myself starting to wander, I try to rein my thoughts back in.
3. Stay calm and loose
I’ve competed in quite a few different sports in my life, from baseball to surfing to various endurance disciplines. And I’ve never come across a sport where it pays to be tense and overly aggressive. Getting agro and tense for brief moments may help me
punch through walls overcome short bouts of difficulty, but ultimately it zaps my ability to perform.
Think about the best athletes you know, in moments of pressure they are calm…poised…collected. I love(ed) watching Manny Ramirez bat in pressure situations (I love watching Manny do anything, really). His hands are so loose that it looks like he is liable to let his bat slip straight through to the ground. He’s calm and focused, and nothing can shake him.
4. Forget about the pain
In endurance sports people always want to talk about “pain” or “suffering.” You’ll hear, “He’s in the pain cave,” or “It was a suffer fest,” etc. Working at or above threshold sure can be uncomfortable, but painful…? Hardly. Muy Thai is painful. The discomfort of racing is temporary (okay, I know racing can be really harsh. But let’s try and keep things in perspective, at least you’re not on the street, starving and suffering barefooted though an east coast winter).
I try to think of working near my aerobic maximum as just another type of sensation, and appreciate understanding what it feels like to go race pace. If I’ve trained properly, I am familiar with the sensation come race day. I know what my body feels like when I am going hard – I know what my legs feel like. What my chest feels like
right before it explodes. And I try to throttle the gas right there.
Training is not just about physical conditioning, it is also about preparing mentally for racing. When I go hard in training I think to myself, “When I feel like this in competition, it’s no big deal because I’m used to it.” Not to mention, the adrenaline on race day dulls sensitivity.
Check in, stop grimacing or cringing, and stay loose and calm. If your face doesn’t look like this guy’s gut, you are too tense.
Part two coming soon.
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