The Right Question for Right Now
As an endurance sports coach, my experience has been that, for the vast majority of athletes, the number one concern boils down to dealing with uncertainty. Pre-race uncertainty can lead to anxiety, which leads to elevated heart rate and energy expenditure both physically and mentally before the gun goes off on race morning.
Good plans--both training and race plans--help reduce uncertainty and increase the probability of training and racing performance. Such planning can be accomplished with some degree of efficiency when race dates and timelines for training and preparation are relatively predictable. For many athletes and coaches, the uncertainty that became the norm for much of 2020 around races and race calendars, postponements, and canceled races has colored their perspective very deeply as we peer into 2021.
Already, from social media platforms to personal conversations, many have been asking in these early days, "will the race really go?" And that is a fair question in light of the events of 2020. Fair but not particularly helpful. Instead of "will the race go," athletes and coaches should be focused on asking themselves something far more helpful. "When the race goes, will I be ready to go as well?" Will you? Or will you allow the possibility of a season in 2021 with some remaining level of uncertainty to rule your decision-making processes?
You and I can take a significant concrete step toward a positive outlook on the upcoming season by accepting the following axiom: "You can be certain that you will race again…if you want to!" Because if you do this, you will be on the road to a mindset that allows you to stay focused and continue to prepare for race day.
The only other choice is to allow pre-race uncertainty to create mental roadblocks in your training and preparation that will drastically decrease your ability to be ready when the gun goes off. By decreasing your focus on preparation, you are increasing the uncertainty for yourself in the areas that matter the most: your physical and mental fitness.
Right now, you can begin asking yourself the more important question of whether you will do what it takes to be ready whenever you do race again. Already we see signs of hope in this area around the country with safe return to racing protocols, reduced restrictions, vaccine rates going up, and many other signs of progress. Among those signs are races that are taking place around the country.
The multisport community is a community of resilient people. Certainly, we had a rough year last year, but most of us have also had bad races. That did not stop us from lining up for another race. So join me in looking to 2021 with a positive outlook. Races will go; let's be ready when they do.
When you find yourself starting to get worried about your race going or not, try this mental strength exercise:
Outlook Setback Reset
Take time to reset your thinking around race preparation for 2021 in the face of remaining concerns and uncertainty and let go of the setbacks due to canceled and postponed races in 2020.
The purpose is to build a pathway of sustainable mental refocus away from the setbacks and toward the best next steps forward to stay on track for the primary goal you wish to achieve.
Once you have moved through the beginning mental exercises, look closely at the setback you are facing.
In a quiet place free from distractions, spend 2-3 minutes focusing your breathing and relaxing your mind.
Begin by asking yourself what you will do to let go of the disappointments of the setbacks.
Next, ask yourself how you can begin to see the opportunity for improvements in preparation and fitness as you prepare for the 2021 races.
Visualize how coming through the challenges of 2020 can actually lead you to being a stronger athlete.
Let your mantra be, "I will race again."
Now, as you repeat this mantra, decide to own it for yourself. Make it yours.
Mark Turner (aka Coach MarkT) is a Houston, Texas Metro area based Coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN University Certified Coach,VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and Mental Strengths Performance Coach. Coach MarkT absolutely loves coaching and helping the athletes achieve their dreams. MarkT is also a US Veteran having served in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. In addition to endurance sports, his interests include history, science fiction, and cooking. He can be reached at markt@teamMPI.com.