Thing about your next race or competition. Think about your goals for this race and what you want to accomplish. What needs to happen for you to consider this race a success?
Every person will answer those questions differently, but let's focus on your answer. Do you have a goal to finish in the top ten of your age group? Did you state that you wanted to beat a previous personal record by two minutes? Are you on the hunt to take down your racing nemesis, or reign victorious over a friend? (Yes, everyone wants to beat their friends). These are great aspirations, but what about the smaller, less glamorous goals-like sticking to your race nutrition, pacing or simply "giving it your best shot"? When it comes to answering these questions, there are no wrong answers, but there can be wrong approaches in the way you go about defining goals and meeting them. The best approach to being the most successful athlete that you can be is to focus on what you can control.
What is it about "focusing on what you can control" that will make you a successful athlete? First of all, I want to mention that this isn't the only way to find success as an athlete, but it's one of the best because it puts you in a position of power over your performance.
On any given day, an athlete could have a good performance or a bad performance. We have all had races before where we just couldn't go as fast as we wanted, and we have also had races where we were shocked at what we were able to accomplish. If your mindset leading up to the race is to beat another athlete or finish in the top ten, your mental focus is on things that are completely out of your control. You can't control how the other athlete is doing to prepare, and you have no control over who shows up at the race. These are all factors that are completely independent of anything you do. The only thing that you can control leading up to the race is how you choose to prepare, and the mental state that you engage in when the race begins.
Sounds simple, right? Executing this mindset is much harder than it seems. Even athletes with the strongest ability to focus on what they control will encounter thoughts of beating a friend or making it to the podium when they cross the finish line-but the difference between those athletes and "mentally weak" athletes, is that they can control their thoughts, stop themselves from thinking their way into a downward spiral, and redirect their focus to the elements they can control (pacing, breathing, form, fueling, etc.).
The ability to focus on these elements during the race starts well ahead of the starting line. Before the race, you should already have a nutrition plan outlined in your mind, and a clear idea of how your racing equipment is organized. This level of preparation ensures that you can move through your race performance focused on executing a series of tasks appropriately (drinking and eating as needed to maintain calorie intake/output, having your gear arranged in a way that makes it easy to move smoothly through transition, etc.). During the race you should be focused on form such as how your cadence feels as you ride, and the position of your shoulders as you run. Worrying about what your opponent is doing while you move along the course will not make you go any faster. Many people believe that focusing on a competitor will provide the necessary drive to go faster, but studies have shown that this "outward" focus isn't as productive as an inward focus on yourself and the elements that are fully in your control.
Another factor that athletes should avoid focusing on is the weather. No matter what the conditions are, you cannot control them and every athlete in the race is experiencing the same thing. If the weather is presenting unexpected variables that you didn't prepare for (i.e. you have no rain gear, or warmer layers to wear), you can't do anything about it once the race has started. This is where being thoughtful about your race equipment prior to the race comes in handy-you could have already prepared for this scenario "just in case" which would have given you peace of mind.
Not only is it important to focus on yourself and your race, it's also important to keep your focus on the present. Remember that workout you missed two weeks ago? There is nothing productive about obsessing over it. You can't go back in time and complete it, and you can't noodle on how things would be different if you had completed it. (If it's any constellation, many coaches agree that showing up to a race under-trained is better than showing up over-trained).
All athletes have their own unique drives that help them to achieve their best performances, but no matter what level you are competing at, it is impossible to do your best if you lose focus on what you are doing. If you're focused on an opponent the whole time, you'll miss the cues that your own body and mind might be trying to give you in order to deliver a more successful performance. Trust in yourself and your ability to assess and control your own situation on the course to lead you to success.
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