Updated: Dec 13, 2019
As children, we weren't given the reins of control too often in our lives, as the bulk of our livelihood was controlled by adults. As adults, we possess the ultimate amount of control and yet our sphere of control can be unpredictable, limited, and at times disappointing. On race day, our sphere of control can shrink even further, leaving us to potentially spiral into uncertainty and anxiety.
Like many of you, I like to have control over just about everything, which is utterly unrealistic. I struggle with letting go of and adapting to things I have little to no control over — like slow service at a restaurant, the weather, traffic, flat tires, forgotten or malfunctioning equipment, race day conditions, etc. Wanting to control certain aspects of our lives is normal. It's how we process, react, and adapt to having a lack of control that is most important.
Recently a woman posted on a triathlon Facebook page I follow about her lack of confidence in the IM 70.3 she was getting ready to race. Accompanying the post was a picture of an email she had received from Ironman. The email offered words of encouragement and perhaps sage advice about control: All you have left to do is show up and give your best on race day — whatever it brings. Accept what you can't control — other athletes, the weather, or bad luck — and remain in control of your attitude and your ability to adapt to whatever race day throws at you.
A few tips on flipping the narrative and rolling with the unknowns...
Trust the training and preparation. We train in all types of conditions and settings so we're mentally and physically prepared for race day no matter what it throws at us. For me, I continue to think about race day conditions at the 2018 Boston Marathon this year. Athletes had to adapt to race conditions that were unforgettable and downright awful. I have immense respect for everyone who persevered through those circumstances. So when a race throws something at me that I have no control over, you bet I'm going to be thinking about those folks out on that course adapting to the elements.
Have a race day plan. Whether working with a coach or on your own have a plan in your head and follow it. For example, for an Olympic distance triathlon my goals include a 27 minute swim, an 18 mph average on the bike, and an 8:30 min/mile pace on the run. Will I meet all three of these goals? Maybe, maybe not. Will I need to adapt my race day plan while racing? Likely, yes. There are so many variables on race day that we can't control that being able to reassess and adapt ourselves is critical if we want to complete the race AND have fun while competing. The key is don't panic, adjust your pace, and relax.
Remember your “why.” The more you can connect your race day experience with why you do triathlon, the better. This should be your happy place. Mine is freedom. When your strip away all of the other stuff – the training, the racing, the logistics and the fears – there should be ONE key ingredient that keeps you coming back. What’s your why? Learn it, love it, live it. - Lesley Paterson, triathlete
Get laser-focused on the process. Things that we worry about before a race haven’t happened yet. All that matters is what you need to do right now to execute the skill to the best of your ability. - Lesley Paterson
Stay positive - no matter what. Stay positive through all the hiccups. Tell yourself that you've done the work and you're prepared to adapt to adversity and to overcome anything that your way. And when race day rolls around, give yourself a chance for success. Mentally focus on technique to keep your world small. I like to say to myself: small world, small problems. - Andy Potts, triathlete
Don't get distracted. Focus on your goal, not anyone else's. There are many different races being run on any give day. If you avoid getting caught up with what everyone else is doing, you'll likely have more success in accomplishing your own goal. - Will Leer, track athlete
Pack race day essentials in your carry-on bag. Destination races are a wonderful way to combine a vacation and a race into one trip — unless you arrive at the airport to find that your luggage is a few days behind you. Be proactive and pack your essentials in your carry-on. This might be your race day fuel or gear — anything that you may not be able to replace easily, even with the race expo nearby.
What can be controlled on race day? Your attitude, how you respond to adversity, your focus, race plan, breathing, pace, thoughts, and fueling.
Challenge: What can you do now to shift to a mindset that allows you to adapt and successfully roll with the unknowns?
Check out the new move of the week video: TRX Bulgarian Split Squat w/ Kettlebell