Have you ever wondered how certain athletes can train so hard day in and day out and always seem to have it all together? Do you have difficulty maintaining a prolonged hard interval that you know you have the ability to achieve? Have you ever met those athletes that can ride their trainer for 2+ hours without a TV or computer to distract them? One method some athletes use is a mental skills practice called visualization.
“No matter what little thing goes wrong, I have already prepared for it thousands of times in my mind. I am ready for anything.” ~ Michael Phelps
Visualization is the process of creating a mental image of the desired outcome in a prescribed situation. It can also be referred to as guided imagery or mental rehearsal. For example, Michael Phelps used visualization techniques to handle tough races - he has a ‘high-light reel’ of his best races that he visualizes once a day before bed. Picturing an entire IRONMAN is a little different than picturing Michael Phelps’ 200m freestyle… but aspects, or certain points, of an IRONMAN are very possible to visualize.
Let’s say that T1 transition makes you particularly nervous - the transition between swim and bike. Going through that transition mentally, step by step, specifically imagining each item that you need to pick up from when you exit the water to when you mount your bike is key to a successful visualization.
It is also very important to decide where you want to view a particular scene from. Do you feel more comfortable seeing this as a third person watching from the sidelines? Or do you prefer to see it from a first person’s point of view? Neither view is wrong - but trust your instincts. It's important to know which “camera angle” is more comfortable (and helpful) for you.
Visualization is a simple yet effective tool in your athlete’s belt. In any race situation where decisions have to be made at a moment’s notice, it’s easier if you’ve been in the situation before - even if it's ‘in your own head!
Check out my ‘bike tire’ visualization below:
Flat Tire Success Mental Training: Visualization
Sit in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Imagine that you are ⅔ of the way through your next triathlon when you suddenly find you have a flat tire. You pull over in a safe location. You unscrew the skewer and remove the wheel.
Now, visualize where you keep your tools on your bike. Imagine taking them out of their safe location, inserting one tool under the edge of the bike tire. Once you have it displaced, imagine taking the other tool and removing the tire. Imagine the way you particularly move your hands to do this. Next, imagine removing your inner tube and bike pump/ CO2 canister. Pump the inner tube slightly up, then place it in the tire and place the tire back onto the rim.
Finish pumping the tire up, place the tire back on the bike and tighten the skewer appropriately. Put your tools, bike pump, and the old inner tube back in their appropriate location. Since your helmet is still on, mount your bike and take off.
**Note: You may have a different bike wheel/tire/inner tube with different needs. Feel free to adjust as you need to ensure you see yourself performing each and every step exactly as you should.
Coach Becky Piper is a USA Triathlon Certified Level 1 Triathlon Coach, Paratriathlon Coach, and Cycling Coach. She is currently on her way to Michigan but has made a little stopover in Wisconsin to see friends and family while her husband Sam is serving in the military. Her dog, Gunner, is with her on the long adventure across the country. She is the reigning national champion in the Time Trial and Road Race in women’s C2 Paracycling and is preparing for her debut in the Paralympic Trials, but her true passion is coaching. Coach Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.