We're about a week and a half out from the US Elite National Championship race in Buffalo now, and there is such a delicate balance to everything. Tapering for a big race always is, I suppose. You're trying to walk that line of maintaining fitness without digging yourself too deep when it comes time to recover, recharge, and be in the best place possible for the race. But you're physical fitness is far from the only thing that matters come race day. To experience real success, a more holistic approach is absolutely necessary - you know - mind, body, soul, and all that jazz. A steady and consistent focus on all three aspects of your training and life in the weeks leading up to the big day are critical. Today we're just gonna focus on the ole' noggin... (body and soul coming soon...)
Mind: Everyone's a head case - the important thing is to know what kind of head case you are, and manage it accordingly. Some people need to get super psyched, building the pressure, and feeling like everything is on the line. Some people need to belittle the event as much as possible, and alleviate race day pressures entirely. And some people (myself included) are somewhere in the middle. In any case, the mental game to race day starts in the weeks and months of training prior.
Personally, I've learned that I race best when I maintain perspective with respect to the rest of my life, and the world around me. Sure my life skips a beat for race day, but life goes on. I've still got to go to work on Monday with everyone else, I've still got a family and friends that I love waiting for me when it's over, and there are still people starving in Africa. Seriously, the bigger the picture, the better. This helps to minimize any delusions of grandeur and alleviate some of the unnecessary pressure. That said, I value the pressure. Sure the world doesn't stop turning, but this is an important day for me - something I've been training countless hours for - and I should give it the attention and effort it deserves. Showing my excitement for the possibility of achieving my goals is not something I'm comfortable with. I feel awkward sharing how hard I'm going to CRUSH a race. But I have learned that it's important for me to be honest about my hopefulness for success. My mom used to ask me "how you FEELIN' buttly?!" (please ignore the nickname) in an effort to get me pumped up to race. Evading the excitement, I would usually respond, "meh, pretty good..." And my performance always turned out, meh... pretty good. I'm learning that my response to that question, whether it's from my mom, myself or someone else needs to reflect the enthusiasm and excitement I'm actually feeling. I'm calling it this little mind game, honest positivity.
Like I said before, preparing mentally almost always starts well before race day. For me, it really starts about two weeks out. I'm learning that just spending a little time each day letting my thoughts of excitement run free, and reflecting on what this race means to me (substantial) and to the rest of the world (insignificant) helps me to think about this stuff on race day without taking away from my focus on the more technical aspects of racing, like a proper warm-up, transitions, etc.
The most important part of all this, however, is to know what kind of head case YOU are. Where does your head need to be on race day, and how do you need to get it there. Don't downplay the value of this aspect of the game. Seriously, you can train your butt off all season, but if you're down and out on race day, you can shut down over the littlest things, and blow the whole race. OR you can be prepared to be as tough mentally as you've trained yourself to be physically, and experience some really solid racing.