Mental: This is the most important part of the routine and also the hardest. It involves predicting mental states throughout the race and planning strategies to keep emotions in check. Race day, especially at the longer distances, is an emotional roller coaster, and your mental state can make or break your performance. The excitement of racing means you can easily go out too hard early in the race. It helps to plan for this and be prepared to rein yourself in for the first few hours. Here is my dirty secret: I have rarely gone through an entire race without considering dropping out, if only for an instant. There will always be low points during a race where you feel nothing is going right and it’s “just not your day.” Often, fatigue and negative thoughts are the result of glycogen depletion or dehydration. If you can identify when this is happening, you can remove the emotion from the situation and deal with it constructively. Slowing down and focusing on eating and drinking for a few minutes will be enough to get you back on track. My personal demon is the swim—I rarely visualize myself in the lead pack out of the water. Instead I deliberately consider the frustration I may feel exiting the swim farther back in the pack and plan on how I will refocus my energy onto the next leg of the race. It can be uncomfortable thinking about the critical self-talk that we all experience during a low point in a race. By accepting that problems are inevitable on race day and devising a strategy to deal with them, you will have prepared yourself to overcome them.
Visualizing all of the bad things that can happen on race day is not an exercise in negativity—it’s a constructive tool that will prepare you to problem-solve and neutralize unhelpful emotions before they derail your race. Success lies in recognizing weaknesses and devising strategies to deal with problems that arise. Plan for the worst while preparing for the best.