Mentally preparing for things that could go wrong will help you deal with race day hiccups, says Steve Trew.
Visualisation is one of those buzz words that everyone seems to subscribe to, but the reality may be somewhat different. That old cliché “if you don’t dare to dream, then how can you make those dreams come true?” is evident here.
So what is visualisation? The easy answer is “seeing yourself in a race”, but it needs to be a lot more than that!
Visualisation used properly should prepare you for every eventuality that the race might present. You have a puncture? Great! (Well, sort of!) Because you’ve visualised it already and you’ve planned how to deal with it.
Similarly, goggles getting knocked off, being kicked or scratched during the swim, falling over in transition, crashing or skidding on the bike, fluffing getting your shoes on in transition and sunglasses steaming up at start of the cycle.
Tough circumstances can occur, but planning and being ready for them makes them easier to deal with. You’ve already visualised them and therefore you have decided how to deal with them.
However, it’s not recommended you visualise a massive failure at a major championship! You can visualise anything as long as you haven’t lost and you are dealing with it. Although we use the term visualisation for seeing the race, I believe there is far more to it than that.
With the athletes I’ve coached over the many years, we used the other senses as well to prepare and be ready for a race. What does it smell like?
The athletes trussed up in neoprene on a hot day, the crush of sweaty bodies in transition all fighting for a similar space.
What does it taste like? Salty water perhaps? Or dust and dirt lingering on your tongue as you take a breath in a less than ideal lake.
What do you hear during a race? The exhausted breathing next to you on the run, the sigh of effort as you overtake someone on a steep climb during the bike, the fantastic noise of the crowd cheering you in on the final few hundred metres.
Just as importantly, what does it feel like? Feeling can be touch, of course, but it’s also the emotional state that comes when you’re out there in the arena. It can be euphoric (sometimes bringing you to tears); it can be heartbreaking when things don’t go as you’d expected them.
Knowing what those emotions feel like, and having a strategy for dealing with them, is crucial. As another old cliché states: “There’s no such thing as a bad race, only a learning one.” If you can bring that to mind when things have gone wrong, it can be the one thought that gets you through to fight another day. You have to anticipate every possible situation that may arise and plan how to deal with that situation.
So how do you go about visualising? You have to put yourself in that race situation even if it’s in your mind. Placing yourself at the event makes it real. So as you’re unfolding various possibilities and outcomes in your mind, make sure you’re visualising them happening at the race.
Otherwise it becomes as if you’re looking at something happening on the television and that removes the action a little bit more from the reality you’re trying to simulate.
Staying with that TV comparison, it’s important that you see yourself and the action around you in colour, not black and white, as the full technicolour keeps everything closer to reality while black and white removes it.
Before you start your visualisation, make sure you’re in a quiet and calm place. Usually it’s better if you’re by yourself, but if you’re in a group make sure you have your own private space.
Our squad would sometimes have a group visualisation session where I would set the scene and each athlete would follow through. Choose somewhere comfortable and warm to sit or lie down. Start by closing your eyes, slow your breathing, focusing on your body.
We found the whole process would often work well after a hard session or a hard couple of days when the need to relax and recuperate seemed to make our minds more amenable to suggestion.
Go through your up and coming race from start to finish in your mind, see yourself from the inside going through every single part of the race.
See what can go wrong, but also visualise that perfect race. When things are going well, have a plan on how to capitalise on that, too. Prepare the feelings for it. You’ll go even better!
Steve Trew, Coach and Commentator.
Steve is currently visualising his race; it’s going so well he can almost see himself breaking into a walk. Steve is an advisory coach for Speedo. He can be contacted for all things triathlon on firstname.lastname@example.org
For training plans and injury recovery advice, check out our Training Section.