How to mentally prepare for a race

By Brandon Hinton | Sport scientist. Endurance athlete. Coach. 


For years, the world’s top athletes have been utilizing psychology as a key to over-come nerves and tap into their true athletic potential on some of the biggest stages of the sporting world. This has proven to be such an essential that almost every elite athlete now has a personal sport psychologist traveling the globe with them event after event, calming those pre-race nerves and utilizing techniques such as “imagery” and “thought-stopping” to reduce the psychological gap between “just another training session” and a world cup event.


Although it’s most commonly used by elite athletes, the benefits of sport psychology can have one of the biggest impacts on performance in recreational or age-group athletes who aren’t exposed to a high level of competition as often.


Here’s a step-by-step guide taken out of the book of an elite athlete’s preparation for an event that you too can incorporate into the build-up to your event to ensure that you arrive at your next event confident and ready to race…


1.  Begin by closing your eyes and relaxing your breathing (5 seconds inhaling, 5 seconds exhaling) as you draw your attention and thoughts to yourself. Now, change your thoughts to reflect on the training that you have done up to this point, right from the first session up all the way up until today’s. Reflect on the hard amount of effort and sacrifice you have poured into this. Now, believe in the fact that you have done your utmost best leading to this point, both in training and in your personal preparation.


2. Keeping your eyes closed, change your thought to the present. Focus on your personal skills in each discipline, identifying your strengths. Now begin to visualize yourself in first person lining up for the start of your race. As the gun fires, picture yourself racing the swim exactly as you’ve trained. Then, picture T1 as you get onto your bike and complete the bike leg before T2 and the run into the finish. Picture each one of these individual disciplines as in as great of detail as possible, repeating them over and over.


3. Next, add in the detail. Begin to visualize the other competitors, the spectators lined along the barricade cheering you on, the sweat dripping down your forehead, the emotions as you cross the finish-line in your goal time, as you link your race up from start to finish, simulating the race day environment.


4. Lastly, bring your thoughts back to the present as you again reflect on the work that you have poured into your goal of completing this event. Believe in yourself. Believe in how hard you have worked to get to this point. Be proud of what you have achieved and confident in the fact that you are going to walk away from as a finisher.


This visual rehearsal can be done for as long as and as often as you want, with the more times completed the better, allowing your subconscious to arrive at the race feeling as if you have been there before, reducing pre-race anxiety levels and uplifting your confidence and in end, performance too!


My suggestion is to find 30 minutes each day of race week leading up to the big day where you can lay down, plug your earphones in your ears and run through the above imagery rehearsal over and over, increasing the detail with each one. This can be done all the way up until line up time on race day.


Having the mental strength on race-day of an event can be a key factor to achieving your true athletic potential, so don’t skip out on training your brain too. Mental conditioning is just as much as a factor as mastering your training, diet and recovery components, so my advice to you is to use your time wisely this week as you rest your legs to squeeze in one final heavy gym set (for your brain of course) to help you get the most out of your next racing experience.


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