If you’re traveling a great distance to your race, plan some extra time to allow for jet lag and/or altitude acclimation. Keep your special needs bag checklist handy so you can get everything packed and ready to go long before race morning.
Finally, enjoy some time at the expo and with friends and family, then quietly excuse yourself to get some alone time to focus on your mental game plan for race day. And above all else, stay off your feet as much as possible!
“Do some mental training to prepare for race day. Take some time to come up with some mantras that you can use to keep you focused on form and execution. Having those thoughts to focus on when things get tough can help keep you positive and focused during your race.”Peter D., IRONMAN Lake Placid Finisher
Rest and Mental Game Preparation
Ideally your mental preparation for your race began the same day you signed up for the event and continued in earnest throughout your IRONMAN training. That being said, in the days leading up to your race you should set aside some dedicated time to practice race visualization, positive thinking, and relaxation techniques.
Race visualization is a popular and proven technique often used by professional athletes and age-groupers alike. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your race course, take some time to find a quiet place to do some race visualizations every night leading up to your race. The key with race visualizing is to not let negative thoughts or scenarios overtake your practice.
Start by choosing a few areas of your race that you feel unsure about. Imagine yourself swimming smoothly through the open water as you easily guide yourself around a buoy. See yourself exiting the water feeling confident and energized. Go through the logistical steps of your T2 transition: Removing your helmet and bike shoes, putting on your running shoes, applying sunscreen, and starting your watch as you head out on the run course in a slow but steady jog.
Some people also take the time to visualize themselves overcoming race day obstacles that might occur, so if they arise they are ready for them. Visualize yourself calmly and efficiently changing a flat on the side of the road and plan how you will react to that scenario.
While you have put in hours and hours of hard training, for a race like this, your fitness level is truly only half of the equation—the other half is your attitude and mental strength. Many athletes develop a very negative dialogue about their race day readiness, particularly in the final days leading up to competition. They doubt themselves, or they fixate on things that are truly out of their control. Control the areas of your race that you can: your nutrition plan, your pacing strategy, your attitude, etc., but accept that many other areas of your race are simply out of your control.
Nip that negativity in the bud by stopping yourself every time you think a negative thought, taking a deep breath, and replacing that thought with a positive one. Over time, this practice will get easier.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations for your race. Be kind to yourself. While it’s perfectly normal and healthy to have race goals, try making them more guidelines than hard and fast ultimatums.
You’ve worked very hard to get here, so find gratitude in the little moments and make room for peaceful solitude any chance you get. Find a simple mantra that you can repeat to yourself to center your mind and make you feel better about yourself. Chances are if this mantra works for you during race week, it will be a valuable tool to draw from on race day as well.
It can be hard to relax in the days leading up to a big race. You have a lot of tasks to take care of, you’re tapering and feel cruddy, and you might feel pulled in a thousand directions with friends and family who are also attending your event.
Meditation and breathing exercises can be very beneficial for athletes of all abilities. They center your mind around a single thought, phrase, or image and allow you to—for a little while at least—stay completely in the moment. Being able to stay in the moment is one of the most powerful tools in your IRONMAN race day arsenal.
At various points during your race, your mind will be intensely focused, then aflutter with activity and then suddenly wander aimlessly (perhaps due to boredom or fatigue). Being able to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand (holding your power, streamlining your swim stroke, running with proper form, etc.) will keep your energy levels up and prevent you from getting overly worked up or distracted by things going on around you.
There are many free apps that provide guided meditation, as well as numerous online videos on mindful breathing. If you’ve never meditated before, don’t be surprised if you find it very difficult the first few times. Keep at it, and by race morning you’ll be able to get to a focused, calm state quickly.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the course, packed your special needs bags, checked in your bike, and got your race day mental strategy dialed in—you are ready for race day!