How can you prepare for the mental and emotional rigors of race day during your workouts and in your mind? Sports psychologist recommend adding a technique called visualization to your race day arsenal so you can toe the line feeling confident in both your physical and mental strength. But does visualization really work? If so, how exactly can you implement it into your training? Mental training and visualization clearly works for high-caliber athletes. But how can you make it work for you?
Here are some specific visualization and mental planning tips and strategies you can implement to improve your performance:
How to visualize in training
In order to properly visualize the way your race day will play out, it is important to do your homework. Focus on building a complete mental picture, covering all five senses. Imagine yourself at the starting line, surrounded by thousands of other high strung triathletes – is it hot, is it cold, what are you wearing? Swim suit allowed? Where you are going to swim? Ocean, Lake, river? When the gun sounds, envision the acceleration in your heart rate and the claustrophobic feeling as the stampede begins. By conjuring up these emotions, sights, and sounds, you can prepare yourself to remain calm, collected, and execute your race plan in a chaotic environment.
The more specific you can be with the sites, sounds, and emotions, the more calm and confident you’ll be on race day. Here are some important elements to consider:
- Will it be cold on race day? (how cold impacts race times) Will it be warm? (how heat impacts race times) Will it be humid or raining ? (how to race in adverse conditions) Find out this information by looking online at average weather temperatures for the area as well as the actual forecast closer to race day.
- Will the course have hills? How muchi s the total dsl? If so, how many and at what point of the race? Research how to attack hills during a race. Also pay attention to courses with many turns that can break rhythm and courses that feature heavy spectator cheering that can push you too hard during the early stages of the race. Many major races feature both course maps and elevation charts on the race website. Some even feature a terrain map if the course is not entirely on one surface.
- Find out how many people run the race each year as well as what the starting situation will be. Preparing yourself to stand in a crowded race corral with thousands of people is beneficial for triathletes with nerves that fray easily.
- Find out what you will be looking at during the race.
Likewise, visualize positive and negative scenarios. Let’s face it, no matter how fit you are, a race is going to hurt at some point. Imagine yourself working through those bad moments during the race. This way, when they inevitably occur, you’ll know exactly what to do and be confident you can work through them. Furthermore, visualize what you’ll do and how you will feel should something go wrong. Before a big race, grab a pen and paper and write a list of the things that are not foreseeable. Here are some examples of unforeseeable events:
- No swim suit
- Sea bad condiction
- Bike mechanical problem
- Racing by yourself
- Racing with a group
- Wardrobe malfunction (shoes coming undone, nipple chafing, etc…)
- Fueling malfunctions ( missing a water stop, losing a gel, etc…)
Boost your self-confidence
Another advantage of visualization in training is the opportunity to boost your confidence. It’s been well documented that high confidence correlates to an increased level of performance. By visualizing yourself succeeding, you can subconsciously improve your belief in yourself and your abilities. To enhance your self-confidence, try implementing self-affirmation and self-talk into your daily routine. Spend 5 minutes each night before bed standing in front of the mirror repeating specific, positive messages to yourself. The mirror helps engage the visual receptors in the brain and helps internalize the positive messages. Phrases such as “I am fit, I am fast”, “do what you have to do”, “done” tend to work well. Yes, you may feel silly in front of the mirror, but I’ll take that in return for racing better every day of the week! Create your own self-affirmation phrase and spend 5 minutes repeating it to yourself. Before you know it, there won’t be a doubt in your mind you’re going to perform on race day.
Visualization before the race
As race time approaches, you can’t help but get nervous. After all the hard work you’ve put in, you don’t want it to go to waste. Luckily, you can implement the visualization techniques you used in training to reduce these pre race nerves.
Recollect all your great workouts
If you find yourself getting nervous before the race, start thinking back to all the great workouts you had during your training. Think back to that great tempo run you had where you floated effortlessly over the road, or visualize your last successful race and begin to conjure up those same feelings of accomplishment.
Focus on what you can control
We get nervous when we don’t know the outcome of things, like when the killer is going to jump out of the shower in a scary movie or how we’re going to feel half way through the race. Take the focus off those elements of the race you can’t control (your finishing time, your opponents, the weather) and direct them to outcomes you can control. Visualize yourself executing your race plan, going through your warm-up routine, and even focusing on your breathing. By directing your thoughts to those physical and mental aspects you can control, the nerves will dissipate and you’ll increase your chances of success.
Visualization during the race
Racing is tough, there’s no two ways about it. At some point on your way to a great race or a new PR, you’re going to hurt and you’re going to have self-doubts. Letting negative thoughts creep into your mind is one of the easiest ways to derail your performance.
Stay positive with self-affirmation and self-talk
Before you begin the race, decide on a few easy to remember mantras that will help you gain confidence and persevere through any rough patches during a race. Make sure that all the words in your mantra are positive. For example, use “I am strong, I can do this” as opposed to “push through the pain, don’t give up”. The second mantra elicits negative connotations with the words “pain” and “give up”.
How to implement visualization
- Relax! Choose a quiet dark place with no distractions, and begin by relaxing your entire body, from your head to your toes. Think of a beautiful, quiet place, this can be personal to you, a garden, the beach of a forest, for instance. Once your mind and body are at piece, begin the visualization.
- Set the scene. Using your list of race scenarios, see the starting area with your minds eye. Feel the breeze on your skin, hear the noises of the crowd or the music in your headphones. Develop a mental picture involving all 5 senses before you begin the race.
- Focus on emotional and physical sensations. Feel the doubts and nerves of the starting line but use positive language to overcome them. “I AM an athlete, I CAN do this, I AM supposed to be here.” Once the gun goes off and you begin the race in your mind focus on calming and relaxing, not starting too fast and establishing a solid rhythm. Visualize the pain of the race and with your mind’s eye look at the other runners around you, tell yourself that they are experiencing the same pain that you are.
- See a positive outcome. Imagine the finishing time that you wish to achieve displayed on a giant clock above you as you soar across the finish line with arms outstretched, imagine the feeling of joy as all of your hard work pays off. Imagine your family and supporters rushing toward you, filled with pride. Even imagine that well-earned post-race beer!
- Repeat. Insert a different situation from your list of possible race details (different weather, different possible physical difficulties, etc…) and repeat the process. Make sure to visualize at least 1-2 nights each week in the month or two leading up to the big day.