As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Race morning is a stressful time for even the toughest athletes. You may find yourself in an unfamiliar location with extra stimulation and nerves at a new high. Smart athletes use a well-planned ritual to get their butterflies flying in formation. These tried and tested tricks of the trade prepare the body and mind for peak performance.
Nothing new: We all know not to try anything new on race day, and the same goes for your pre-race nutrition and hydration. Plan to eat your usual breakfast two to three hours prior to the race to give your body time to digest, and do your usual bathroom routine before you head to the race site. This will keep your nervous stomach happy and set you up to better absorb your in-race fuel.
Focus on what you can control: This includes your gear, your warm-up, your breathing and attitude. Gear checklists, breathing exercises, meditations and running through a successful race in your mind’s eye are useful habits. Your favorite mixtape on your headphones can shut out unwanted stimuli and help you avoid any negative transition talk.
Practice makes perfect: Develop an effective pre-race ritual by looking closely at how you prepare to train. What do you do before every training session that makes you feel great? What makes you smile and relax when you are tense? Many successful athletes have a written timetable that counts down to the race start, outlining when they’ll wake up, eat, arrive at the race venue, warm up, walk to the swim start, etc. It allows them plenty of time for each task, thereby reducing stress and allowing them to be ready when the gun goes off.
The reverse warm-up (run, bike then swim) is a great way to prep your body and mind. Use to it to check the transition layout so you can easily locate your bike rack from all entrances. Include a little intensity in your warm-ups to signal to yourself that you are ready to perform.
There is no “magic system” that will work for everyone, so it’s up to you to find what works. Embrace the ritual and hit a performance high; ignore it at your peril.
Gareth Thomas has been a coach and advisor to top endurance athletes, including world and national champions in triathlon, duathlon, and cycling. He is considered a leading authority on blood lactate testing. Find him at Coachgareth.com.