How much to train; how far to swim bike, and run; what carbon aero gadget to buy?the list is endless, and the triathlon space has no end of guidance on these topics. But success on race day is more about what goes on between your ears than it is about the details of training and gear.
These are the mental tactics we use to help our athletes prepare for a breakthrough performance on race day:
Step 1: Forget Your Fitness
Understand that all you've done in training for the last three, six or even nine months is build a fitness vehicle. Race day is about how you drive that vehicle through the course and across the finish line. All the fitness in the world can't help you if you don't know how to drive it properly.
This becomes more important as race distance increases. Simply put, you can't fake the funk in the long-course game, as evidenced by the hundreds of very, very fit athletes under-performing because they don't know how to drive their fitness vehicle properly.
Step 2: Separate Yourself From the Outcome
Once the race starts, forget the Outcome. Forget goal times, placing, everything. In our experience, chasing the Outcome will often force you to make decisions in the short term that will prove counterproductive to your long-term goals.
Step 3: Identify Critical Junctions of the Race
Where are opportunities on the course to gain time? To lose time? Where is my competition most likely to make mistakes that I can avoid to help achieve a better outcome?
A few examples:
- Consider swim placement and seeding to take advantage of faster swimmers, currents, and avoid navigation mistakes.
- Recognize critical parts of the bike course where you can gain time including hills, descents, corners and tailwinds.
- The same on the run course: where is that downhill that you can bomb? Consider holding back a bit in the first couple miles so you can attack the hills at the end.
- While the notes above apply to the long-course swim, energy conservation becomes more important.
- On the bike, the longer the ride the more it becomes about not making mistakes. Avoid riding too hard up hills and into headwinds, don't spend too much time coasting, let off the gas in tailwinds. Rather than actively trying to make something happen to gain time, be sure to conserve energy where possible.