Okay gang, let’s think on a topic that has been near and dear to my heart lately.
Does your epic level of fitness leading into an “A” race mean you’re 100% ready to meet or exceed goals? It should, right? I mean, you’ve worked plenty hard for your golden ticket to success, glory and millions of dollars in endorsements, eh?
In my opinion, all of us need that one day, where everything lines up – where your hours of hard work and dollars add up to something you can honestly be proud of and use to fuel future performances. That day, however elusive, is waiting for you – but how do we get there. We work hard and it should just happen, or at least it seems that way. The problem isn’t hard work or a can-do attitude. The problem is all the little things that happen which can erode confidence or counterbalance your proven ability to execute.
It’s not a very difficult formula to understand, stress + recovery = adaptation. However, as an athlete who’s also responsible for kids, a job and a significant other – the formula is often a bit different. Sometimes it’s home stress + work stress + training stress = life stress. As you can see, a working athlete with a family isn’t offered much recovery. Of course, this is why you have a coach or someone who can at least guide your training stress so it can better integrate into your daily life. Typically, Mon-Fri is used for more high-intensity type sessions, hard swimming and overall shorter volume sessions that emphasize form or technique. The weekend, however, is where you get to put aside that lame job and focus on YOU. Ideally, you’ve woken up early so your family can sleep while you get after it. This means you can simulate race day with “race day” fueling. This means the night before you might simulate a pre-race dinner and this also means breakfast and race fuel are near the same as on the big day. Of course, since you will not have aid stations out there on course you’ve got to plan ahead.
So your work week is designed to more or less keep your training-pulse alive while the weekend is designed to really focus on the race day or at least this is “in-competition” strategy. Training sessions are designed to get you ready, duh….but some of you are missing out. If your races have continually been lacking, I’d argue you’re missing out on the mental aspect associated with race day specificity. Sure, you have all proven you can handle long days of gritting it out when you’ve been able to pre-plan and work YOUR schedule but race day doesn’t give a damn about that.
I’d argue there are three types of athletes TRIBAL coaches typically work with. There is no doubt you’ve come to us for performance-driven coaching, not a social endeavor. For that reason, we have a lot of dedicated people. Most of you are exceptional at accomplishing the daily task of training, some of you bring your “A” game to nearly every race and a few of us really struggle to put it all together. As a coach, I get to see most all of this play out in slow motion. When multiple key sessions go poorly due to planning or lack of mental toughness or when life gets in the way – your seasonal best can be dulled do a lame day you’re forced to learn from, yet again. When do we really eliminate that single point of failure, whether it’s nutritional, race course-related or self-sabotage? Confidence isn’t really confidence if you wake up on race day and question everything. If you’re easily crushed by the pressure of race day, you haven’t been training with the proper mindset. First off you should be realistic with your day. You can’t complete 20% of the plan and expect a 50% increase in your overall finish time. Expectations need to meet your level of commitment and the last 2 months of consistency. You can’t just magician yourself a PR and trust me, I see some of you training with HOPES of a PR. Hope isn’t something that is going to get ‘er done but true confidence can. Those days where you’ve only wanted to quit or you couldn’t even imagine running off the bike in that heat but did it anyway. Those are the days where you’re offered an opportunity to earn REAL confidence. Sure, you can ride five hours and suffer but what about the 45-minute run off the bike…the part of the race where it usually falls apart. I would say in almost all cases; the bike leg of the race is just the appetizer where the run is the main course AND dessert. Swimming is just something we do to get warmed up for the bike. That’s not to say the swim isn’t important – if you’re middle to front of the pack you still stand a good chance for a higher placing!
Race day confidence doesn’t require a blue painted face like Braveheart and it doesn’t mean you’re all giddy and pumped up, doing high kicks at the start line. Race day confidence is that moment when you go to bed the night before the race, you take a few deep breaths as any last bit of anxiety passes by and you know for a fact, you can handle any uncertainty that comes your way. If you know that you know THAT YOU KNOW….nothing can defeat you but that reflection in the mirror – you should be very confident that you can compete and not just complete, your “A” race. We earn confidence when we break through a barrier and come out standing tall. However, those moments are wasted unless you take a few quiet moments to give yourself credit, remember the feelings, endorphins and finally – the feeling when it was finally over. Live for that finish line or that rest between intervals. Learn to live in the moment and build confidence brick by brick as you assemble a fortress of pure rocking emotional fortitude. Know that your legs have been battered, your heart never exploded and dangit you can give just 2% more even when you’re fucked and want to die/go home and cry. Every chance you can push through that “quit” feeling is money in the bank when it comes to confidence.
The final takeaway is a reminder that even a subpar training day can be something you draw from. The fact that you worked as hard as you could given fatigue and stress and walked away wasted yet stronger is important. I’ve used so many training days that were only 50% successful as reminders that my body CAN do more when I’m tapered, rested and mentally amped for the task at hand.