Improve Your Race Performance by Managing Race Week Stress- Lance Watson

Poor management of race week stress is a sure way to derail the countless hours of preparation you have put into getting ready for an event. During the final week, all the physical training has been completed and there is little that you can do in the final seven days to bump up fitness. However, there is a lot that can affect your race day in a negative way.

Staying focused on the goal ahead rather than worrying about “what might be,” is a key attribute. Much of this anxiety can be real or imagined. Stress or anxiety is technically an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future. One of the simplest ways to control these anxious feelings is to adopt the Boy Scout motto- Be Prepared. As renowned author Dale Carnegie once said, “First ask yourself: ‘What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.’ ”

Factors that can affect your mental state are logistics, the course itself, and finally, actual competitors. Below are tactics you can use to manage your time and tasks leading up to a key event. The explanations are written for an athlete who is travelling, however the same principles apply if your race is in your hometown or close by.

It shoud go without saying, but plan your stay well in advance of the event. The goal is to make your stay at the venue as close to what you experience at home in terms of habits, food, and sleep. Start preparing at least two months prior to the event, even more if it is a World Championship or in another country. In addition to relieving the stress of getting all the travel arrangements finished, early preparation typically allows you to get the best rates as well as the shortest or most direct flights.

If your room has a kitchenette and you plan on making your own meals, bring a few of your usual recipes and lay out the week’s menu in advance. Cooking your own meals also gives you control of serving sizes and nutrient content of the food. Sticking to a normal routine will help keep nerves calm and also avoid unwanted gastric surprises. You can even go so far as to make early reservations at a favourite restaurant for the final pre-race meal. Often, in smaller venues, the popular eating establishments are overwhelmed and you could be waiting longer than anticipated or forced to eat somewhere not as appetizing.

Course Specific Preparation
I wrote an article a year ago about doing race specific course preparation for the bike. This should also extend to similar training for the swim and run as well. Knowing that you have prepared to your potential for a hilly or flat, hot, humid, or chilly destination should help alleviate any anxiety that you are not yet ready for the race. The internet is a massive resource and there are plenty of sites like that provide accurate course specific data. Search for previous athletes race experiences and read blogs that provide information and some of the smaller nuggets for a particular venue.

Testing any new gear ahead of time and ensuring your nutrition is effective at race intensities should reinforce positive thoughts for race day. Arrive at race site knowing your equipment is tried, tested, and complete. Hitting the expo looking for magic pieces of gear and not knowing how they are going to integrate with your race plan is not productive.

Read the race guide or website to determine key points of the terrain profile to replicate in training. Have an idea of what each venue looks like and even use Google Maps with street view to analyse where you will be competing.

If you able to train on the course prior to race day, plan and know what workouts you can do on the course. Use this time to place landmarks that you can use in your race. Strong sessions in key areas can give a huge psychological boost come race day.

Research the logistics of races that involve two transitions. Organizers of events like 70.3 St. George or IRONMAN Canada are able to manage two separate transitions, but athletes should pay special attention to when buses run and the times that gear needs to be in transition. Examining maps and getting an overall lay of the land can help avoid being in the wrong place unnecessarily.

Mental Stress
While hard, you should try to relax as much as possible. During race week, let your body recover from the training leading up to the race. The final week is not the time to cram in more workouts. Use your time to read, watch movies or TV. Your mind will often play tricks on you with insecurities, along with physical niggles. Know that this is normal and aim to relax.

Reflect on the goals you are aiming to achieve at the race. Have a clear idea of the effort that you expect to hold during the race using power, heart rate, or pace. To manage stress, these goals should follow the process rather than just time or placing focussed. For example, rather than aiming for a 25 minute swim, visualize yourself maintaining focus for the entire time in the water, being in a draft as much as possible, or sighting properly.

Keep in mind the sport you have chosen is part of your journey as an athlete. The race is a stepping stone along the way to future events and as such, it is also a learning experience. Goals should be focused on the process of racing, not a particular outcome, as this puts added pressure to perform.

Review some of your best workouts over the month leading into the event. These will remind you of how you feel when you are moving well, and give you confidence that you are ready for race day. You are going to swim, bike, and run like you do day in and day out in training.

Keep your thoughts confined to your own race and don’t be concerned about other athletes. By knowing what you are capable of and having a plan for race day, you are controlling your own destiny. How well you stay focused on your own effort will reflect how the day evolves. You can’t control who shows up to race and there will always be faster and slower athletes to compete against. By keeping yourself engaged in the act of racing rather than comparison, you remove a factor that is outside of your control.

Knowing that you are going to feel relaxed during race week along with when and where workouts are going to happen before you arrive will help alleviate most of the stress so you can focus on the race at hand.

Thanks to LifeSport Senior Coach Dan Smith for his contribution to this article.

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Race preparation

Here is a great article from Jim Vance and USA Triathlon-

Prepare well, race the way you prepared and have a great day!


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What races shall we do this year?

Picking the races for your season is probably the most important part of your planning, yet I find that many athletes just wing it. They look at what races their friends are doing, they read an article on a race that looks like fun and sign up on the spot, they accept a late night, somewhat inebriated challenge from their college buddies and “hey ho” off to the races they go.
Any of those options are fine if all you want to do is finish and make some new, “remember that time . . .” memories with those crazy college friends, but if you want to race your best, you really need to have a more thoughtful and analytical approach.
First off, why do you want to race, and why do you want to do this particular race? What are you goals for the race, and will it allow you to let your strengths shine through, or merely bring your weaknesses out into the bright daylight? Sometimes signing up for a race that will force you to train your weaknesses is actually a way to get stronger and fitter, of course- but that needs to be a major part of the consideration. I signed up for IM Utah to force me to train for the hills to make me a more rounded athlete.
In order to chose the best race, we must consider the course, the weather, our fitness, our strengths and weaknesses, what our business/travel/family schedule looks like in the months leading up to it, and how all of these issues balance and affect one another.
For myself, if i want to get a great race time, then I need a wetsuit swim in a lake (as I get seasick and I am a mid pack swimmer), i like a gently rolling course for the bike (I live in Florida but have a power meter, stationary trainer and a excellent training software that supplies hilly courses and strength training), and a flat, cool course for the run (as I don’t do well on the hills, nor in the heat); IM Switzerland would be a good course for me.
Do you need a race where a lot of your training buddies are also competing, or like me would you prefer to train and race under the radar? Do you want a destination race (which brings it’s own logistical issues) or a local one where all your focus and money and time can be spent in preparation.
If you do chose a destination race, make sure to consider the local weather, altitude and time differences. If you live in the cold and race in the heat, you will need to factor in at least two weeks of heat acclimation training prior to arriving at the race (train inside, with too many clothes on, and a heater blowing on you. Start with short and easy workouts in your manmade heat, then add time, then add intensity over the course of two weeks. This will allow you to psychologically prepare, and will give your cardiovascular system time to adapt and your plasma volume to increase so you are better prepared for the heat). If your race is at altitude, you have two options: arrive 10-14 days ahead of time so your body can acclimate (who has that much time!!?) or arrive as close to race day as possible so that the negative effects of altitude will affect you as little as possible. Many athletes mistakenly believe that if they don’t have 2 weeks then 3-5 days will give them enough time to acclimate to some degree. In fact, the complete opposite is true- without adequate time to completely acclimate all you achieve is to feel all the negative effects of altitude (fatigue, headache, disturbed sleep, shortness of breath) without any of the acclimation effects. So, plan your arrival time optimally. Time zone differences also necessitate planning- as much as is possible, adjust your schedule at home gradually to that of the destination. I went to Africa last year, with a 9 hour time difference, and in the two weeks leading up to it gradually adjusted my sleep and wake times by 10-30 minutes a day so that it was not such a shock when I arrived. Of course, it’s not possible to live in the US and function acting as though I am living in East Africa, so I only got to about 4 hours ahead, but it helped!
If you want to score a PR, make sure you pick a race that will play to your strengths! Look back at the races you did last year and figure out what needs work and hit those limiting areas and train for the race you are doing, and don’t make the mistake of doing what everyone else is doing- train for YOU and YOUR races.

Have fun out there, train smart, race happy!


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Mental toughness- with it you are stronger, faster and tougher!

Good article from Mental Skills Coach, Carrie Cheadle.

Mental skills alone can’t give you a PR, but fitness without mental skills will likely result in sub par performances.

Here’s to a happy new year!


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Training, eating and maintaining through the holiday season

Hello to you all! Have the holiday season crazies hit where you are yet? Are the holidays stressful in terms of figuring out when you can fit your workouts in? Even though most of us are off work, the family guests and all the preparations can make it difficult to find time to get out the door to workout. Add to that that the inconvenience of the pools keeping strange hours, and that you might feel guilty trying to cram in a long workout when everyone else is at the house preparing food and spending quality family time, or perhaps you just want to chill and you are not in the mood for the workouts right now-it can be hard to make it all happen. It’s ok! I suggest that you focus on maintaining fitness (and sanity) during the holiday season and then you can work on getting fitter, faster, stronger when the craziness is over. Additionally, if you are using the off season as a good time to lose some weight, it’s best to focus on maintaining, and not gaining weight during the holidays. No point swimming up-stream and making yourself and everyone crazy and feeling deprived! Enjoy the food in moderation, have a little bit of all that you want in portion controlled servings and then you won’t feel as though you are missing out. Same with your workouts- get just enough done so that you hold on to your fitness, but not so much you are too pooped for the festivities or won’t have enough energy for that one family member who is SOOOO needy. 🙂
Triathletes can aim for 4-5 workouts/week (3 if you are really pushed) in any mix you like. And if you are a single sport athlete, then 3-4 workouts is plenty. January you can kick it all back into gear again, start gradually increasing your frequency of workouts, eat a little cleaner, and all with a clear conscience and a holiday season that went a little smoother.

Happy holidays to you all, stay sane, be smart, and have fun.


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Time for a little down time and a season review

Somehow it is already almost December, and all your big races are complete for the year (unless you are getting ready for some very late season race) and you, hopefully, are preparing to settle into some holiday relaxation and festivities.
This time of the year is a transitional period as athletes move from the hard and very disciplined work of training for their A races and into a less formal, more relaxed time of the year so their bodies and minds can recover from all that hard work. It can make an athlete crazy to have to back off training, but it is this rest period and an actual planned loss of fitness that will allow endurance athletes to build back up and become even stronger next year. So don’t be tempted to train hard, but rather go do all the fun stuff you have not had time for as you were training for your A race/s. Take a month off dedicated endurance training and just go play with your friends- hell, maybe you could even go out without your Garmin! Try something different- mountain bike instead of road bike, go indoor climbing, take off for a hike in the woods, or a paddle on the intracoastal- PLAY!
And after a little time off, think about which athletic accomplishment/s you are most proud of this year: a PR, a first time at a new distance, a higher FTP, staying positive and focused as you recovered from an injury, and/or beating your demons in the pool, bike or run?
Next, think about what you learned this season: did you figure out a new way to train that was more effective? Were you able to stay more positive during a race by incorporating the mental skill training you had practiced? Did you realize that your nutritional strategy was undermining your training or supporting it? Fill in the blank here for something you learned.
Lastly, as you look back at your training logs and race results, do they give you some insight into what needs work and more focus for next year? What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are as they apply to your target races for 2016? If you were working with a coach this year, what did you find helpful? What were you not so keen on? Communicate with your coach and let them know how you think you both could be more effective (ideally, you will have been doing this all season!). Did you give you coach all the pertinent info (as workout files only gives us one part of the story)?
As you look ahead to next year, chose races that allow you to utilize your strengths and give you motivation to work on your weaknesses so that you become a more well rounded and satisfied athlete. Make sure you figure holidays and work stress/load into your planning so that you can train the way you want to without becoming frustrated. Training and racing do not exist in a vacuum and we need to take into account all else we have going on in our lives (especially if we don’t want to totally fry our loved ones) so that we can train smart, stay healthy and race happy and strong.

Have a super holiday season,

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Boca Life Magazine- Page 28!

Ok- Shameless self promotion:
Check out this article I was interviewed for on simple hydration and nutrition for marathon training and racing:

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