Updated: Jul 6, 2021
I always hear "I don't feel ready for this race." Truth is, that no one is ever ready for a race. No one is really ever ready for anything in life even when we think we are. A new job, a new baby, a death, marriage, or losing our virginity - but we do them anyway - some with more enthusiasm than others. The line of ready is like an asymptote that you'll never really reach, because as soon as you think you're close you'll immediately think of some way you could get better, or you realize how far you've come in your fitness and that as of right now you can build on this and be even more ready for this same race next year. You can be slightly closer or further away from being ready than another person, but you can also be less fit and get more ready in a shorter amount of time with wise training, nutrition, and rest. So if we all reach the same point of readiness, close to the asymptote of being actually ready, what is it that separates the top finisher from the rest? That gap, between ready and what we actually are, is all mental.
Take this graph that I drew up:
Here the X axis is an athletes fitness more or less. The Y axis is a temporal axis where you can imagine the work you put in all season: diet, rest, and training. Athlete A has slightly less fitness starting out than Athlete B at the start line (y=0) or the beginning of the season. As time progresses towards the line where the athlete is "ready" to race, we see that Athlete's A and B come together. Athlete A, even starting out with less "fitness" was able to catch up to Athlete B with better nutrition, training, and mental prep. Athlete C who would be a sure-win given his starting position, slacked off and didn't get a close to ready as the other 2 athletes! He drank all the beer and ate all the cookies. Athlete's A & B only ate a few cookies and enjoyed a few beers - this optimized their mental health - because resisting the temptation ALL the time leads to mental fatigue.
Race day comes. No athlete is really "ready" because growth and improvement are constant, and your bar is forever higher. Some improved faster than others, but on race day, that gap to be ready is all in your head. Who winds up on top is who has it all organized between the ears. Whether you think you're going to have a good race or a bad race, you're right. Even the bigger gap created by Athlete C's laziness about training because he was already in better shape can be easily closed by a stronger mental game given the right conditions.
How can we position ourselves to be the best possible athlete we can be on race day? How do we close this "Mental" Gap?
Here is an example of a strong, almost bullet-proof, Pre-Race Strategy to close the gap:
1. KNOW YOUR COURSE (all of the race specific stuff is in the Facebook live feed in the private group. If you subscribe to flat-rate or coached paddle training plans, you have access to this and can go watch all the goodies about tide, wind, line selection, nutrition, and pacing. If you don't, then what are you waiting for!?)
2. To help build the habit of achieving goals, be sure to set 3 goals: a gold, a silver, and a bronze. Each goal is something you would be proud of, and is measurable. Gold would be the most amazing outcome possible. Silver is very challenging, but you can do it if you give it everything you've got. Bronze is somewhat of a safety goal, a goal you know you'll reach. This sets you up for success, and getting in the habit of success will set you up for further success!
3. Be on auto pilot! The times you need to wake up and eat, be at the race site, warm up, and be on the start line should all be already figured out. Breakfast, hydration, gear; anything you can think of, you should have it all organized, laid out, and ready to go. On race day you should be able to wake up leisurely and go through the motions. You shouldn't be stressing about running late, misplaced gear, or making any decisions about what to eat. All choices race morning cause decision fatigue - its a real thing - and ain't no body got time for that!
4. If you're prone to race day jitters, be sure to tell those butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation or fly the F* away! Deep breathing and visualizing help! Use your anxiety and adrenaline to get pumped up, don't lose that energy - USE that energy. While breathing deeply, picture your heart rate coming down. Picture the butterflies flying in formation pulling you through the water off the start line. In your mind, see yourself sticking the start and putting it all out there, visualize when you settle into your pace, and then visualize a strong attack-like finish where you're picking the weak ones off left and right!
5. Don't visualize it not hurting, though. Be prepared for it to SUUUUUUUUUCCCKKK! The more mentally prepared you are for it to be painful and difficult - the better your race will go. Don't expect to feel good. Ever. At any point. Period.
6. Forgive and forget. Even the best visualizers have strange things happen on race day. We're not competing in a vacuum. Other people may hit you with their paddles, or their entire boards. Someone may fall right in front of you. You may stick your fin in the dirt and superman right off the front of your board and be last off the beach. Shit happens. Get up and keep going. Don't waist one second of your time on thoughts like "I suck" or "What a rookie mistake, I blew this race." Any mistakes from you or due to others needs to be forgotten IMMEDIATELY like the flashy thing in Men in Black. Harbor positive self-talk like, "You're moving fast now" or "I've got this" and make your come-back.
7. Paddle (Race) for others. Selfishly it reduces your perceived exertion, improving your race, when you think about who/what you paddle for. Do you paddle so your kids can see a healthy, vibrant parent? Do you paddle to inspire others? If you haven't thought about who you're paddling for besides yourself, give it a minute of your time. Even if that person isn't there, ever. Maybe its a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. We can all think of someone who probably needs to paddle a lot more than us, but they don't. Dedicate every stroke to that person in hopes that one day they can also find the joy that you're experiencing by pushing yourself to your limits.
At the end of the day, don't forget to look back on the journey that you've been on to get where you are. Are you the same person, the same athlete that you were 6 months ago? What about a year ago? Pat yourself on the back and get back to work ;-)