Mental Preparation for your “A” RACE


I am finishing my preparations for Ironman Coeur d’Alene and while my physical workouts are getting shorter, my mental workouts are getting longer. With most of the hay in the barn on the physical side of the preparation it is time to put more focus on the mental preparation for the race. This is the method I use to prepare myself mentally for racing.


1) Set Goals: setting goals is the first step to achieving success. You must know what you want before you can get it. I don’t care what you have for goals; the important part is a goal. We are all at our best when we are constantly striving to achieve a goal. We all want different things out of our racing experience so define what is important to you and write down your goals for the race. If you don’t set a goal, you won’t know if you succeeded. Your goal may be as simple as finishing the race, but that in and of itself is more than most people can achieve and can be the difference between you giving up when things get tough, or sucking it up, grinding your teeth, and finishing the race. Written goals are achieved more often than unwritten goals. It is a subconscious reminder of what you want to get out of something.


2) Focus on the process: this is a hard aspect for many people to master. When we race we tend to get concerned about our place and how other people around us are performing. While racing others and being competitive is very important to successful racing, it takes the focus off what you are capable of doing. Set a race plan and strategy in place and then execute that strategy. The process aspects that are important to consider are how you feel, what your effort is, your technique, and your strategy. For example instead of just saying you want to swim 21 minutes for an Olympic distance event, you should say I want to focus on staying relaxed in the water, keeping my stroke rate constant and my breathing under control. These all have to do with the process not the outcome. While your goal of swimming 21 minutes is an outcome goal there are many variables that may affect this outcome from coming true, the course may be long, the water may be choppy, and there may be a current. All of these things can derail the outcome goal of 21 minutes, so it is better to focus on the process of the swim and have goals to draft off another swimmer, or breathe every 3 strokes. These are goals that focus on the process of swimming and focusing on the process is really all you have control of while racing. Set a plan, make a process goal to execute your plan, and then visualize that plan being executed.


3) Visualize: this is probably the single most important step in mental preparation. Your mind cannot tell the difference between what is vividly and repeatedly imagined in your mind and what your body has actually done. Winning and performing at your best is a habit and it is a habit you can create in your mind. I like to visualize at night before I go to bed, I find this is the best time to enter into a relaxed state and it often carries over into my dreams, further programming my subconscious mind about winning. I take 10-15 minutes each night while I lie in bed and close my eyes and picture myself racing. I prefer visualization in the first person where I am actually racing (as opposed to third person visualization where you watch yourself racing). I find first person visualization is more accurate to how your body will actually experience the race. I go through every part of my race in my mind. I can feel the temperature of the water and how my arms feel as they stroke through the water. I can feel my breathing and heart rate. I feel the wind in my face on the bike and feel myself turning the cranks smooth and powerful with a relaxed upper body. I feel myself running smooth and in control, relaxed in the jaw and upper body. I feel each foot strike on the pavement and use my trigger words to stay focused and in control. Most importantly I feel myself crossing the finish line, raising my arms in victory, and the feeling of complete and total success.


4) Create a cheat sheet for your plan: I like to take a small note card and write down small key reminders of my process goals (and sometimes a few outcome goals). I use this cheat sheet to create my trigger words for racing. Trigger words are words you repeat to yourself when you race to help you stay focused and strong. For example, you may have triggers words on the bike like: Smooth, powerful, or strong. You may also have a phrase that you repeat to yourself: “keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’” One of my favorite phrases from a Limp Bizkit song. I use my cheat sheet to help me visualize what I will say to myself while racing and how I will feel.


Here are my goals for my upcoming race in Coeur d’Alene:


1) front pack swim

2) draft and stay relaxed

3) follow the bubbles

4) focus on my turnover rate

5) seamless transition to the bike

6) ride in the correct power zone

7) conserve and stay in control

8) stay in my aerobars as much as possible

9) stay on top of my nutrition plan, reminders to consume what is necessary

10) seamless transition to run

11) keep the run under control for the first 10K, build on the second 10K, run with guts on the third 10K, Bring it home and finish strong on the last 10K.

12) lean forward and use gravity to help me run

13) turnover

14) WIN!


Here is what my cheat sheet for each segment looks like:



Go out hard and in control

Settle into front pack

Follow the bubbles

Key word: Turnover



Keep HR under control and power in proper zone

Conserve matches

Drink, eat, and focus on food as much as possible

Key Word: Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’



Stay relaxed and in control


Focus on cadence and leaning forward

Key word: Never gonna stop


Work Hard,