Photo by ActiveSteve
For many of us middle-of-the-pack age groupers, August marks the end of the race season. With Labor day weekend around the corner, fall’s schedule about to kick in, and the holiday season looming, the focus tends to shift from negative splits and personal bests to our next snack or afternoon nap. We allow ourselves to back off the intensity of regular training, indulge in the foods we’ve forsaken in the name of “race weight,” and get ready to “go civilian” for a few months.
But before you turn off your tri brain completely, why not take stock of the summer’s experiences while they’re still fresh? That way you’ll know exactly what you’re bringing to the table next season. These tips will help you archive your season’s achievements and maximize future success.
Did you find the silver lining?
The worst experiences you had this summer will probably define some of your greatest strengths down the road. If you changed a lot of flat tires over the past few months, you probably consider yourself unlucky. In the moment maybe that was true, however the upside is that you had the opportunity to get even quicker and more comfortable with the procedure.
Many athletes (professionals included) struggle with elements of their nutrition plan and have had to modify their strategy at some point during training or racing. While this might have resulted in a DNF or a slower performance, it also gives athletes insight into how a particular combination of products affects their body. This is valuable intel to carry into the next race season.
Did you weather the storm?
We all know how much weather influences our performance. Temperature can dramatically change nutrition and fueling needs, while the elements have a way of disheartening even the strongest of athletes. I encourage my clients to purposefully do some of their workouts in less-than-ideal conditions. For example, doing a two-hour run at high noon in the middle of summer might not be pleasant, but it will reveal new information about how your body works. Do you need more salt? Does your heart rate spike at slower paces? Is it tough to get motivated when you’re distracted by the sunscreen stinging your eyes? Similarly, riding your bike in the rain might cause your enthusiasm to wane, but it can help you learn valuable bike handling skills—like how to react when the road is slick, your tires are wet, and you can’t see out of your glasses.
The goal here is to find ways to learn about yourself in a variety of climates, in order to minimize the chance of surprises come race day. Remember—the more you can visualize and prepare for how the race could go, the more likely you are to succeed.
Did you commit your milestones and mishaps to memory?
Unlike a training log, your mental arsenal is not necessarily a tangible journal with notes and information on your workouts. It’s all about recording the experiences through your senses so that they become a natural source of strength and positivity. The mental arsenal is the support system that’s there for you even when you’re completely alone—without a suite of gadgets to tell you how it’s going, and without a cheering squad to keep you motivated.
The ability to visualize race day and launch your “Plan B” at any given time doesn’t come from knowing your average heart rates, mile splits and calorie counts—it’s a visceral exercise where you tap into a well of moments where you’ve felt significant change as an athlete. It could be a negative experience that triggered you to work through something in order to complete a workout or race, or a positive experience where you felt things come together in a new way. This “well” should deepen throughout your race season.
Do you have unfinished business?
The great thing about doing this exercise now is that you can usually find a race in September or October if you haven’t quite hit your stride yet for the season. If your last race was awful, or you’ve read through this article realizing you haven’t really gained anything valuable, you still have time to choose an event, set a few goals for the race, and put yourself to the test.
The mind is the most valuable resource we have as an athlete, and it’s important to care for it the same way we do for anything else in triathlon. We clean our bikes, degrease our chains, hand-wash our race kits, and organize our transition area stash to make sure everything is just so. Your mental arsenal is no different—the experiences and feelings you aggregate over the course of the summer can pile up in your mind the same way a teenager’s bedroom floor piles up with dirty clothes and empty soda cans.
Take time to figure out how you’ve changed and grown as an athlete. Don’t let your experiences fade into a mash-up of activities that get generic and irrelevant as time goes on. Keep the mind free and clear of clutter, so that when you need a dose of confidence, concentration, composure and commitment, your mental arsenal is primed and ready to fire into action.
Lisa Barnes is a USAT Level 1 coach and an Ironman athlete who lives and trains in upstate New York. In her monthly column “Life Trainer,” she helps triathletes balance daily life with their passion for multisport.