The winning mentality

“I wasn’t the strongest physically out there. But what I did have was self belief, and I had absolutely nothing to lose. ”

I love racing. I love the pre-race nerves, that feeling of hesitation in the pit of your stomach, the nervous energy that wants to explode out of you. Others may dread that feeling, but I thrive off it. I love preparing for a race, the energy at the venue, the feelings of anxiousness, the fear of the unknown. I don’t get that feeling from anything else, so I look forward to it.

As it nears 12 months since my last race pre-baby, surprisingly I actually hadn’t missed that feeling though. People would ask me if I missed racing, and I was honest and said I didn’t. I was simply enjoying being able to train to stay fit and healthy and in providing the best possible environment for my growing bump. – and that was my purpose. So I trained and that feeling it gave me afterwards was what I thrived off. That was my ‘high’.

But 3 months post baby (where has that time gone?!) and that feeling wasn’t quite enough anymore. There was a ‘feeling’ that was missing and it started to gnaw away at me. Something was subtly telling me that it was time. I was ready to get those feelings back that no amount of training can replicate.

And that was when I knew I was ready. I haven’t been training specifically to race, I have barely been on the road, I’m definitely not as fit and strong as I have been in the past, I’ve lost top end speed, I’ve lost my endurance, but what I haven’t lost is my drive and my ability to push my body beyond it’s limits.  I’m was no where near race ready, and nor do I want to be at this stage, but I was ready to get back out there, have some fun and see what my body was capable of and I was ready to get those race nerves back!

So as I lined up on the start line of a Crit race on the weekend. I was nervous. ‘I feel like i’m doing my first ever race!‘ I told a friend on the start line. And that was my reminder why I train.  I was born competitive. And this was where I belonged.

For those who have raced criteriums before, you know it can be a bit of cat and mouse game. It’s not necessarily who is the strongest rider, but who can play it smart, use tactics to put themselves in the best position to cross the line first. Sitting in as much as possible and saving energy until the last part of the race and the all important finish line sprint.  But the ‘triathlete’ comes out in me and I’ve never been able to race like that. I race smart, but I race hard. But if it was going to be hard for me, I was going to make it hard for others too. So despite not being race fit (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ridden on the road in the past 6 months), I wasn’t going to stop me having a crack.

As the race went on, the cat and mouse game continued, but I was able to work out who was willing to work and who wasn’t. I knew my legs were able to work for short efforts, but anything longer and the lactic threshold started to build and my body wasn’t able to sustain it. At the same time, I’m not a sprinter, so I knew I didn’t want to be rounding the last lap with the sprinters and having to battle it out for a sprint finish. So I had cracks off the front, I chased others down. I worked hard. I didn’t want it to just be an easy race with a finish line sprint.

So as we neared the end of the race, a couple of laps out from the finish and one rider went and in that moment I thought she was going to win off the front. But I wasn’t ready to give up just yet and a few of us chased and we gradually bridged the gap. As we rounded into the last lap I didn’t feel like I was the strongest, but I said to myself right then that I wasn’t going to listen to my legs, I was going to give everything from the last corner and I started to mentally picture the finish line.

So as we rounded the last corner I dug as deep as I could. I was third wheel but I could feel my momentum building, it was going to be very close. ‘I can’t loose this now‘ I said to myself. My legs and my lungs were screaming at me, and it could have been easy for me to ‘settle’ for second or third – heck I’d just given birth to my baby boy 3 months ago! But I wasn’t willing to settle. So I drove my bike out of the saddle right to the finish line just pipping the other two girls in a tight photo finish.  (not the most glamorous photo, but it definitely sums my race up!) 😉

But I don’t believe I won this race because I was physically the strongest. I won this race mentally. I wasn’t willing to settle for not giving my everything.

Where some athletes miss that winning mentality is by settling. It can be easy to be content and say ‘I’m happy with 2nd, but the question is – are you really? Or are you just settling? Did you allow yourself to settle for second? Or did you actually give every ounce trying to reach first? If you didn’t, why not? What was it that you weren’t prepared to do? Were you not prepared to push that hard? Or was that person out front just that much better than you on the day? You need to be able to answer these questions and be honest with your answers so you can reach your true potential.

So don’t allow yourself to settle. When you think you are done, convince yourself that you have just that little bit more. Break it down. “to the next tree’, ‘pass the next person’, ‘just 5 more minutes of hurt’, whatever your ‘cues’ are use them. And if they aren’t working use something else. It’s a mind game out there. Not just a physical game.

Of course there will nearly always be stronger athletes – that’s the beauty of racing and that’s what helps drives us too. Other days you may just not feel 100% either, a little flat/off, or the legs just didn’t come to play – and that’s ok, as long as you can determine why and as long as you still give 100% on that day.

Something I took away from my time spent last year watching and learning from National Performance Centre Triathlon Head Coach Dan Atkins were some words of wisdom he shared with us: ‘All I ask is for my athletes to give me 100% of whatever they have on that day”.  Re-read that sentence. All Dan asks of his athletes is to give 100% of whatever they have. So even if you only have 80% on the day, as long as you give 100% of that 80%, that’s all that can be asked of you. So don’t settle.

So much of racing is a mental game – not just a physical one. I don’t believe I was the strongest physically out there racing on the weekend. But what I did have was self-belief and a strong mental game. My purpose for the race was to test my mental strength against my physical strength. The end result? A win in my first race back since having my bubs 3 months ago.

This race I can say my mental strength was stronger than my physical one. What I can’t wait for is  when they both line up again on the start line together as strong as each other…..

 

Key take aways? 

– Give everything you have on the day, regardless of how you feel.
– Train yourself mentally, not just physically
– Self belief goes a long way to reaching your potential
– Visualise how you want your race to look – a powerful tool to use.
– Be willing to push the line to find where the edge lies.
– Don’t be afraid of the pre-race nerves, use them to your advantage
– Use mental cues/ positive mantras for when a race gets tough
– Don’t settle. Always strive for more. Always.

~ ~ ~ ~

If you would like me to help you improve both your physical and mental performance, contact me for a chat no matter your level or goals. 

Pictures courtesy of Mich Adventures and StKilda Cycling Club

How to execute the perfect race plan

We all want to execute the perfect race. Heck we all plan to! But there are times when our race plans just don’t go to plan. When this happens, the athlete looks directly at the Coach ‘what went wrong?‘ Most of the time we can delve into the race, or review the lead in, and understand where it didn’t quite go right. Interrupted preparation, over raced, pacing off, nutrition not quite right – whatever the reasoning, it is important for athletes (and coaches) to understand, learn and implement changes into their next race/event. If you aren’t learning, you are not improving.

But still, the expectation is always there – we all want to execute the perfect race, we don’t want ‘trial and error’ or to ‘try again next race’. We all want to nail it from the outset. So the question is, how do we do it?

I share with you my tips that allowed my athlete Brett Sands to execute a perfect Half Marathon and secure a 4th place in his age group in his first stand alone Half Marathon.

Coach Sarah:

The key to perfecting a half marathon (or any long course race for that matter) is pacing. You have probably heard this before and it may not be anything new. But HOW to determine your race pace so you can pace correctly is what I’ll delve into as many don’t actually know how to work this out.  We ask all our athletes leading into their race what their race time/pace expectations are. It can sometimes be interesting on how athletes actually come up with their race pace goal: “I’d like to break 1:45 for my half marathon” an athlete may say, yet when you look at their training and their data, the numbers may not add up. They have simply guessed what they would like to achieve. It might ‘sound’ good and they might ‘want’ to break 1:45, but if the numbers aren’t there, then it can be a receipe for disaster. Race pace expectations need to match reality – or at least in the realm of reality. Of course we all aim to achieve PB’s, but the key to executing a race is knowing your race pace and sticking to it.  And this is where numbers (ie science) comes into play. Not just guess work.

Before Brett’s race we reviewed his recent training history and data, looking at his threshold paces and efforts along with his MAF Heart Rate and pace, and we were able to formulate a plan based on numbers and data – not just by plucking a figure out of the air that sounded good.

Leading into the event, Brett raced the 10km event at Run Melbourne, with the following data:
Time: 38:32
Ave Pace: 3:50min/km
Ave HR: 168
Max HR: 175

This race was 12 weeks out from the Half Marathon, and even though he wasn’t targeting the Half as a key race, we still use his training data to calculate his threshold paces and heart rates for training over the coming weeks/months and use them to build through his training.

Between that race and the Half Marathon, Brett completed specific sessions to simulate his race pace and continue to develop his threshold. An example of a specific endurance run including tempo pacing he completed 4 weeks out from his race:

Focus: Pacing / tempo. Form to be held throughout
20min MAF/easy aerobic
15min at half mara pace/effort (4:00min/km)
5min float ~10sec slower than half mara pace
10min at 10km pace (3:50min/km)
5min float ~10sec slower than half mara pace
5min 5km pace (3:40min/km)
15-20min easy aerobic / cool down

For the main set (40min) of this session, Brett nailed it to a tee, and his averages for the 40min were:
Ave pace: 4:01min/km
Ave HR: 152bpm
Max HR: 168bpm

Compare this to his 10km race, the numbers are pretty much spot on what I was expecting, and again provides me with further data to calculate his Half Marathon Race Pace Goal.

Sessions like this are not only physiological, but also psychological – being able to develop the ability to pace and know what each pace/effort feels like without having to look at a watch. Learning to run to feel is crucial for athletes and something that everyone should work on. If an athlete can learn how it is ‘supposed’ to feel at a given pace, then it is a lot easier to know if you are running too fast or too slow during a race, and you can make adjustments. Brett is extremely good at knowing and understanding the purpose of the session and understanding his pacing and zones and this benefits him immensely in a race.

From an energy-use perspective, athletes should generally be running slightly below their lactate threshold pace for a half marathon. Running faster than your threshold (generally your 5km or 10km race pace) can create a situation where your aerobic system is unable to remove the waste products that are generated by anaerobic energy production – which in return causes muscle fatigue, and your body (ie pace) to slow down. So athletes should know their threshold pace (and heart rate) and run slightly below so as not to ‘blow up’ in the back half of their race.

So with the data collected and calculated above (and a number of other sessions to go off), we calculated his Half Marathon Race Pace at 4:00min/km (remembering his threshold for 10km was 3:50min/km).

sarah-duathlon-start

Want to know exactly how Brett’s race ended up? Find out below: 

Q: What race plan did you have leading into the race? 
Brett: Coach Sarah and I discussed my race plan and we agreed that my plan would be to go out at a pace of 4min/km from the outset and be comfortable and relaxed from the start. We discussed the weather conditions which we checked a couple of days in advance so we could factor that in too. Knowing it was going to be a windy day, the plan was to find a group of runners with a similar pace and hang with them and work together in the winds. That was a key part of our strategy, as our worst case scenario would be battling the wind by myself in no-mans-land.  A good warm-up was also a key factor in my race preparation and timing that to the start of the race.

Q: How did the race pan out to the plan that you went in with? 
Brett: It went perfectly to plan with only a couple of small adjustments as I went. I planned on settling into a group and work together in the head winds and that’s exactly what I did and that’s what made my race. I ran a little quicker at the start due to the massive tail wind for the first 5km, but I knew this was potentially going to happen and planned for it. I checked my heart rate and it was at my predicted race pace HR, and I felt comfortable so I knew I was tracking well. Going out that little bit faster (but maintaining my effort level/HR) I knew I would then have the time up my sleeve when we turned into the headwind and the pace would drop slightly. The key here though was that I was continually monitoring and assessing, running to what I knew of my body based on my training and that helps immensely to not over race.

Q: How satisfied are you with your race? 
Brett: I’m ecstatic and super stoked. Not just with the result, but that we had a race plan and tactics and I stuck to it. I hit my dream time and I can’t wipe the smile off my face!

THE RESULT?
Time: 1:24:43
Ave pace: 4:01min/km.
Placing: 4th ! M45-49
No peaks, no troughs. A solid all round performance and a well executed race plan.
So – instead of just ‘plucking’ a race pace out of thin air in the lead up to your next race, review your numbers and data (doing this with your coach will help you understand better) around 12 weeks out, 8 weeks out and 2-4 weeks out so you can see where your pacing sits, your zone lie and a true indication of what you should calculate as your half marathon race pace. This can be scaled for any distance and calculations can be done for the swim and bike also as you lead into the triathlon season. So good luck – and here’s to executing your next perfect race plan!
Don’t know what your threshold zones are? Don’t know how to review your training data and numbers to maximise your performance?  Contact me find out how having personalised approach can help you achieve your optimal performance. 

This article was originally created and seen on www.holisticendurance.com.au