Think back to last race season...
Think back to last race season. As race day approached, did you make a plan each race on how you were going to attack the racecourse? Maybe you told yourself you were going to dial it back on the swim, then hammer the bike, and then push on the run to stay in Heart Rate Zones 3 and 4 for as long as possible? Or, perhaps you raced more with the idea that you were going to conserve energy, and start the swim, bike and run slowly and pick it up at the end? Whatever your approach, most everyone acknowledges the benefits of racing with a strategy in mind.
When I work with triathletes on their mental game, I often encourage them to set sub-goals – those small, controllable (and realistic) goals that an athlete can strive for in their race. For instance, a triathlete can try to focus on proper technique in the swim, or improving on how they manage negative mind chatter on the bike, or try to lock in on holding a certain pace for the first part of the run. I’m a big believer in setting sub-goals, because whatever your “Big Goal” is (e.g, to win, to podium, to finish in a certain time, to survive, to just finish, etc.), it turns out you can’t directly control whether your dreams will be realized or not. This is not Disneyworld. It’s not always happily ever after. It’s triathlon, and it’s best to accept that you really don’t ever have as much control as you might want over what happens on any given race day.
Consider the wisdom of Katie Arnold, book author, ultramarathoner, and Leadville 100 trail race winner, and her mental approach to racing. On a recent podcast, she described her Leadville 100 plan as letting the “race tell me what I need to know.” Quite different an approach from the coordinated attack plan many of us focus on pre-race. Katie didn’t try to tell the racecourse who was boss, and how she will dominate the day, but rather, in her wisdom, found that just the opposite approach can be effective. That is, she challenged herself to make the race a process of discovery and learning. She describes having a “curious” mind on race day, staying open minded to what the race will communicate to her that she might mentally and physically need to contend with on that given day.
I still believe that setting sub-goals is important. But, I think we could all stand to add a little Katie Arnold to our pre-race planning by knowing that if we don’t surrender to the unknown, the unknown will make us surrender. In 2020, let’s get a pre-race plan and set our sub-goals, and then just when it’s time to race, let’s pull back a little on our intensity and our outcome-based goals, and see our next race as an opportunity to be taught everything we need to know from the day that will unfold in front of us. Happy learning!
Mitchell Greene, Ph.D.
Owner, Greenepsych Clinical & Sport Psychology