You wouldn’t use a bike that’s three sizes too small, so why would you race with an ill-fitting mindset? Many people go into race day with the wrong approach for their personalities and wind up sabotaging themselves before the gun goes off. “People should discern how they tick,” says Jeff Troesch, a mental training coach based out of San Luis Obispo, Calif., who has worked with clients in the NBA, MLB, PGA and LPGA. They should “try to define who they are as a person, how they’ve had success and/or enjoyment in other arenas and employ a strategy that fits who they are.” With that in mind, we’ve put together a few mental models to help properly size up your brain’s best fit for success on race day.
You love: Numbers and data
You’re like: The more stats the better! If your bike computer’s connection wasn’t working, it’s almost like your workout didn’t happen. For you, the most stressful part of a race is that terrible moment in purgatory between your finish and when the results are posted.
The upside: “The Statistician-type personality has the potential to reduce emotional attachment to the race itself,” Troesch says. This is a good thing. As an added bonus, he says this mindset will usually steer clear of making comparisons to others—a big race day no-no.
The downside: Your success or failure on relatively arbitrary goals may feel too black and white, Troesch says; sometimes you can quantify yourself right out of reality. He also warns that this mindset may reduce the ability to adapt on the fly.
Make it work for you: “This type of person is best harnessed with a very specific schedule leading up to race day,” Troesch says. The Statistician should approach his or her event with an organized plan, not only during the race, but in the week leading up to it, he adds.
You love: Racing on pure instinct
You’re like: Power meter? Pffft, you don’t even wear a watch when you race. You’ll go head to head with anyone out there—you’re the 30-something guy or gal putting in an all-out sprint to outkick the octogenarian shuffling his way across an Ironman finish line.
The upside: “The Animal personality is constantly in adaptation mode,” Troesch says—nearly the opposite of the Statistician. “They’re constantly taking in what they’re feeling around them and just flowing with it.”
The downside: Troesch says the Animal can be emotional, and that sensitivity could bring lots of ups and downs. “This type of person may blow up trying to keep up,” he says. “They may also be a little too ‘others’-oriented,” in that they can focus too much on someone else’s race.
Make it work for you: “The Animal could make sure he or she has a specific pre- and during race strategy on how to use the energy of the crowd, the pack and the athletes competing around them,” Troesch says. This type of person should be on the lookout for any advantages and have a plan on how to respond.
You love: Playing each race like a game of chess
You’re like: I need the inside info! You’re trying to learn about every nook and cranny on the course. You want to know the exact direction and speed of the water’s current, and you know the rules inside and out (so you can remain juuuuust inside of them).
The upside: The Strategist is less concerned with problems than finding solutions. “That notion of constantly adjusting and looking for solutions has the potential for keeping it interesting during the hours that they’re out there racing,” Troesch says.
The downside: “They may find frustration if their ‘solution’ isn’t working,” Troesch warns. “They can get internally distracted because of that.” He also says that the Strategist may also end up putting too much energy into others.
Make it work for you: “Anticipate adversity, and look for opportunities to effect solutions,” Troesch advises. “See the race as a game to have fun with.” The Strategist can minimize emotional attachment (a good thing) by looking at his or her event like a puzzle that they simply have to solve.
You love: Racing with the crew
You’re like: Where’s the beer garden?! You have nightmares of racing out in the desert alone. Even when you’re not racing, you’re at an event, painting the road, making a sign and yelling your butt off.
The upside: Race day will be more like a celebration than a trial. “You won’t be overly stressed or anxious, like the other three mindsets,” Troesch says. This attitude could cause you to race more often and for more fun reasons, like simply to see a new place. Or to win a bet.
The downside: The Socialite may be too relaxed. “This type of person may underestimate the difficulty of the task,” Troesch says. “It’s all, ‘Hey, let’s just have fun,’ until they’re getting their asses kicked halfway through it.” And that can cause the Socialite to get discouraged with his or her result.
Make it work for you: “Be purposeful about keeping it light,” Troesch says, adding that the Socialite should not worry about numbers or results in their goal setting. For your best race possible, he says, “Give yourself permission to let ‘success’ equal ‘enjoying it.’”