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Preparing for the Racing Season: Do Your Mental Work First
For multi-sport racers in most parts of the country, the next season is starting up soon. You probably have been doing some off-season training of one kind or another. I live in the Northeast, and for me winter training focuses mainly on stretching, weight-lifting, and a 30-60 minute session or two of fast-walking/jogging on the weekends. My first race each season is the New York Triathlon Club’s “March Madness” duathlon, held in New York City’s Central Park at the end of March. I get into my race-training routine at the beginning of that month, once the weather becomes more conducive for it. But in addition to the physical work, there is a mental routine that I go through each year to get ready for the next racing season.
As with team sports, the mental aspect of multi-sport racing is as important as the physical. But whereas the mental aspect of team sports involves learning a playbook and executing from it, the mental side of multi-sport racing has to do with "keeping your head in the game." This involves addressing such questions as: “Why am I racing?” “What do I expect to get out of it?” “What are the sacrifices I’m making, and are they worth?” And, “What is racing doing for me, mentally and physically?” These questions are part of the goal-setting process, the key of which is to establish goals that are reasonable and achievable, for you. This is absolutely essential if you are going to stay in the sport happily and healthily.
When setting this season’s goals, let your experience last season serve as your guide. For me, the most important question is, “Did I have fun?” If I did, great, and I can set goals designed to achieve that end again, taking fully into account where I am now in terms of speed and technique. Actually, over the last couple of years, with aging and an occasional injury, I’ve had to slow down even further, and I am doing shorter races, yes, so that I can stay in the sport. I set my goals accordingly.
If increasing speed is important for you (and it would be for me if I could only do it!), then were you able to improve your time last season comfortably and without injury? If so, great. Set your your goals on doing that again this year, designing your training program accordingly. But say you had a tough season last year. Perhaps you didn’t go as fast as you would have liked, or maybe you suffered an injury or two, or perhaps you were simply frustrated with your performance. If so, you may want to take a closer look at your goals this season, making sure they’re reasonable in light of the difficulties you faced last season. Then take a look at your race schedule and your training program—how well do your new goals fit with them?
Finally, allow goals to guide what you do this season, not an arbitrary number of races or a time that you hope to make at a given race. Setting goals that are right for you is the best way to make sure that you stay in the sport, happily and healthily.