The final days, hours, and minutes before an event are unlikely to improve your physical fitness. But they can make a big difference in your mental state, and thus in your access to—or barriers to—your physical capabilities during the event. Knowing your target start-line mental state, and developing a strategy—a routine—that you can depend on to get there is a crucial part of mental fitness.
Designing your pre-event routine starts with self-awareness, and the answers to three questions:
What's your optimal mental state on the start line? Think back to an event where, at the start, you felt exactly the way you want to. Were you relaxed? Excited? Focused? Talking? Silent? Thinking? Spacing out? Feeling strong? Confident? Purposeful? Your thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviors are the ingredients of your mental state, so take inventory of all four as you recall the memory. If you haven't yet had the start-line experience you're looking for, define a state that you think will be best for you. You can refine that goal later if you need to.
2. What helps you get there? Think about the week leading up to the event. What did you do that contributed to that feeling on the line, or at least seemed to? What involved other people, and what was solo? Which of your actions were in the days leading up to the event, and which were on the day of the event? Which were in the last few hours? The last few minutes?
3. What gets in the way? What happened during the week, hours, minutes leading up to the start that tweaked your mental state? How much was within your control? Think about what you could have done. Why didn't you?
Record your answers to all of these questions in your training log or wherever else you'll be able to find them later.
Next, at least several days in advance of your event, reflect on your goals for the event, and return briefly to those goals each day. And if you don't have any, use your goal-setting skills to get some—fast. Wondering why that's such a high priority? Having goals, and keeping them in mind in the run-up to an event, can be a great countermeasure against our old nemesis, anxiety. Without goals, you may feel less anchored, less solid, less focused than is best for you. Just the kind of mental state that anxiety loves to rush into! And the last thing you need on the start line, not to mention in the days leading up to the event, is too much anxiety.
Speaking of which, staying relaxed during the week leading up to your event is often a key part of reaching the start line ready for peak performance. Here are some steps that might help you do so: