This is the first of a series of articles exploring some of the aspects of performance not related to physical fitness or conditioning. We’ll look at how mental, psychological and neurological pathways can be triggered to improve performance in training and more importantly, on race day.
This article has been written in consultation with Mat Tippett; a lifetime athlete, former elite swimmer, former professional Triathlete, Coach and master practitioner of Neurolinguistic Programming, and, James Duncan; another lifetime athlete, former elite junior athlete, Ironman and practicing Psychologist.
Let’s start with a simple and basic strategy that can be used to improve performance in training and racing – establishing rituals and routines. This sounds simple because it is. The problem is that it’s often overlooked as unimportant or unnecessary.
Having a routine on race day can bring a sense of normality to the occasion, which will leave you calm and relaxed. This will, in turn, result in a better performance outcome.
First we will rewind to training…
The typical personality profiles of most Ironman athletes suggest they are organised, highly driven and successful.
See Journey 12 – Programmed for Success: Personality Profiles in Triathletes
Their lives are often laced with routine; the time the alarm goes off each morning, the time they head to the office, how they fit in a lunchtime session, family time, relaxation time, the day on which they do their long run…. the list goes on.
Whilst everyone is different, we can all take something from this. Routine is good. It helps us achieve the things that need to each day – it improves time management!
What can you do?
To maximise your training time and to ensure you fit your training in around your busy work schedule ,you too should be organised with a routine. Having a structured training program is a great place to start, and often people find working with a Coach is the best way to do this. It also provides an authority figure that is there to ‘tell’ you what needs to be done and helps ensure it gets done.
Start with a blank week schedule and pencil in regular commitments including work and family time – the things that cannot be changed and are permanent. Also, look at the regular but not as frequent commitments. Then you can look at the time available to train.
This is the first step to the routine – you have the times each day/week when you will commit yourself to training. With this you can pencil in regular sessions – for example, Wednesday and Friday morning you might go to swim squad. Tuesday and Thursday may be your run days…
This all requires organisation and feeds the habit of having a routine. This habit can then be extended to individual sessions and how to make up these sessions. Again, a Coach is often employed to assist with this, routines and rituals can have a major affect on the success of each and every session.
Perhaps the biggest ritual can be your warm up routine and this is one of the key rituals for success on race day. James and Mat discuss this in their Trisports Podcast here:
Put simply, warm up on race day can be critical to performance outcomes, and training is where you establish and practice a routine specific to you!
The aim of the warm up,
See Journey 13 – Warming up for Ironman
is to prepare the body and mind for the rigours of the race. Everyone is different so you should experiment in training to figure out what works for you. This will ensure that on race day you know how long it takes you to be warmed up and ready to go!
This also means that in the time leading up to race start you know how much time you need to allow for the warm up. This leads to…
Race day rituals
Race morning is nerve racking for everyone… Its dark and cold, you’ve trained for months for this one day and its here. Everyone is nervous and excited. Everyone’s bike looks fast, and everyone looks fit, tanned and very intimidating with their freshly waxed legs! It is easy to get caught up in all of this. It is easy to lose track of time. It is easy to do things you don’t need to do.
At this point it is important to note that some rituals or habits are often sub conscious and not chosen. Identifying and removing these could have great positive effect on your race performance. Lead in races are a great chance for addressing this issue.
You can avoid a lot of this panic and confusion and make it easier on yourself and others with one simple tool: a race day running sheet.
A race day running sheet provides a step by step guide from the time the alarm goes off, to the time the gun goes off for your wave start. It includes everything you need to do within that period, and, it’s complete well before race day.
With a step by step guide you cannot go wrong as it is all there. Race day morning jitters are less likely to affect you, because you just have to read off the sheet. It is also the place where you can insert all your weird and wonderful rituals, such as going to the toilet three times, or pre-race vomiting!
If written, followed and used correctly the race day running sheet will mean you’re relaxed and feel in control on race morning – not wasting energy with stressing or nerves. Again, if you’re relaxed and in control you improve your chance of a better race start and overall outcome.
Here are some practical tips from James:
Have a plan – plan the morning from the time you get up until race start
Visualise – visualise yourself being calm right up to race start and visualise yourself performing well throughout the race
Think about all the intrinsic motivators for why you are there and draw strength from them
Relax and welcome the excitement – some excitement is good and WILL help
Focus on controllables – forget everyone else, forget the weather – think about what YOU can do
Be the confident athlete – move confidently, speak confidently, look confident
Relax and Breathe
Focus on process – think about each step as a piece of the puzzle that will help you achieve your goal. What can you do right now to go a little bit faster.
Rituals and routines are evident in all high achievers, especially top level athletes. The Brownlee Brothers attribute their success to their routine. They still use a similar training structure to that they used growing up in Leeds with regard to what sessions they do on what days. Why? Because that is how they’re wired. That’s what they are used to and that’s what has been successful for them. Their rituals, however, are often different… Jonny is very organised whereas Alistair is much more laid back in his approach to training preparation. Their race day rituals have some distinct differences because they are suited to their individual personalities.
For more information on rituals and routines and how they can benefit your training and racing performance contact ETPA. A Coach can work with you to identify and rehearse positive rituals and routines as well as help identify and reduce those that may hinder your performance. Effective training strategies will mean smoother sailing on race day!