Peaking and the tapering and stress associated with it is something that people either love or dread. I find that when a triathlete comes to triathlon from an endurance sports background the concept of peaking, reduced volume and resting seems to come easier. Many love to taper. But when an athlete comes from more of a general fitness background they seem to have a much tougher time accepting that they can sit home a little more instead of training. Peaking is a combination of physical readiness and psychological readiness. The athletes that do well manage to learn how to get ready in both areas.
Physical readiness has been written about and in general a decrease in volume of as much as 60% down to the last two weeks is generally prescribed. The number of sessions and intensity is generally maintained as a reduction on these has proven to not have a significant effect on race performance. Psychological readiness however is something that is often ignored or we just assume that it does not matter too much and the body will take care of things. However, your mind can control your body in many ways and can prevent you from allowing your fitness to come out. In other words your mind can get in your way. Let me give you some tips on the areas and perhaps you can implement these for yur next race.
Concentration - athletes need to concentrate on the task at hand and not let outside irrelevant things get in the way of their performance. The most effective way to deal with this is by developing routines in training that one will perform on race day. Some examples of these are transitions, swim starts, taking nutrition, breathing patterns or how to ride a hill. In racing you can do open water swims and swim close to people. Practice routines in training and later visualize all of these tasks on the days leading to the race. By concentrating on the tasks that are already familiar the athlete should feel comfortable and stay focused.
Anxiety - Almost everyone has some pre-race anxiety. This is normal. Last month's blog was exactly about this. Check that post out as well. Most race anxiety is related to performance expectations. One tip that I learned to use was to picture my emotional state after the race all relaxed and free of any anxiety. The result was already accepted one way or another. I tried to accept the outcome even before I started. This freed me to go out, execute it and carry out all the little things.
Goal setting - As competitive athletes we all have goals. Some athletes can have aggressive maybe unrealistic goals and some can have goals that are very easily attainable. Either way you want to have a set of goals. Start with the super aggressive goal and then have some less aggressive goals that you can still get some satisfaction from. By thinking of all the different levels of achievement you are now less stressed about not achieving your top goal. Goal setting is always really important as that creates motivation.
Motivation - Motivation is something that comes from within. As a race approaches it is important to keep that motivation going by remembering your goal, your sacrifices and understand that there are many things to be done before the start of the race and during the race. There will be challenges and you cannot give up. Triathlon training is a long road and it ends at the finish line, not before or after. Just last week one of our athletes won the race in the last 200 yards. She needed to want it more than the other athlete and she did.
Relaxation - Among all the concentration and goal setting one also needs to find a certain relaxation in order to properly carry out all tasks. Take some deep breaths and be at ease with your personal situation before competition. Prior to competition find some time to just sit and relax and do normal life tasks. During competition learn to find that steady pace that is so essential in our sport. Top athletes make it look easy simply because they manage to relax among the chaos.
Confidence - Many successful athletes have great confidence and you know it. They have developed an ability to know that if they do the training nothing is going to get in the way. They will just do the best they can and it will all work itself out. On the other hand there are athletes that for one reason or another are not confident and say many negative things about themselves and get caught in a spiral of bad performances and stay in it. Athletes that lack confidence need to try to stay positive and use all that they did in training to give them confidence. If you know there is something that has not gone well in the past you need to recreate it in training and try to gain some confidence in that area. Negative talk does not get anyone anywhere. If you cannot be positive then try to not think about the negative things and think of the positive ones. The glass can be half empty or half full.
Some of the items above are interrelated and some feed others. Take a good luck at your personal situation and try to experiment with them in training and as you approach your next race. As I have mentioned in prior writings I have two young kids who are athletes and I can already observe many of these traits and I already discuss these with them to help their mental preparedness for some of their big events. I wish you the best of luck in your next big event.