The key to your first race is... not making it the focus.

A pinpoint focus on race day—especially a first race day—can be the wrong approach to becoming a first-time triathlete. What?

No, really—true story, and here’s why.

Setting a goal for a race is the thing that gets us going and it’s sometimes the ultimate reason we get out of bed early and complete workouts. That goal is the carrot that certainly inspires us; the goal is everything in the beginning, really. The goal is that spark, that fire that ignites and gives us the desire and the will to change, to be different, and to grow into the limitless people we are.

My first coach trained me so that race day was the celebration of the many trials and tribulations of training days. Looking back, this was a mental key to being a beginner. Race day felt daunting and scary when I would think about it. Sometimes during training, I didn’t think that I would ever make it to the start line, let alone finish a race—especially as the distances got longer. He told me to keep going—that race day would be a party.

When I began to look at race day as not only the goal but also the celebration of the hard work and training I had (and would) put in, it changed my perspective. I found myself a little farther away from nerves and learning more towards excitement.

With excitement, I could begin to think bigger and calmer. I was able to move (some) fear out of the way and think about training and race day possibilities, not training and race tragedies.

Think about how we look forward to vacation, or spending time with someone we really like. We anticipate the joy, the fun, and the relaxation. Our mindset and expectations drive the anticipation of that time. We set the same mindset and expectations of triathlons. If we are full of dread and fear, we might call into being a fearful and dreadful race experience. If we are scared of the race, we may not show up to train like we should.

Fear and dread are a snowball that can potentially make a mess of your first (or next) race day. Now that’s not to say that every bad race day can be blamed on our attitude or expectations; of course not. However, I do think a large chunk of “failed” race days were almost called into being by dread, fear, and lack of preparation (also from dread and fear).

To make the most of your race day, you must make the most of your training. If you are dreading or petrified of the race, that will certainly impact your training. This is the very mental part of the sport that not everyone talks about as a beginner. But I have said for a long while that sometimes all you have as a beginner is your mental state—because everything else is so new, clumsy, and potentially awkward.

Here are a few ways that I trained the mental game, the excitement (not dread) of race day:

I would envision myself as a triathlete. How I felt to cross the finish line. I would think of how I would tell the stories to my co-workers about the war that was race day, and how I came out on the other side triumphant. I envisioned how my kids (though young at the time) would grow up seeing me swim, bike, and run—and think that was the norm—not sitting on the couch, eating corn chips, and guac (mmm, guac). I would think of myself as a triathlete—not just someone who did a triathlon. I envisioned myself as an athlete, a mom, and someone who had the confidence to show her kids and others around her that Anything is Possible.

Remember that the things we think and believe about ourselves are manifested in some way—maybe not fully, but in some way. So we should work on believing the good, the strong, and the celebratory.

Begin to believe that you can do these things—because you can.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a four-time Ironman triathlete, recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith is married with two tweens and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com. Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is due out Fall 2019.