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10 Things Mentally Strong Athletes Don’t Do on Race Day

Happy Sunday!

Today’s discussion is about the one thing every athlete can relate to: race day anxiety. Whether you’re a first-time triathlete, seasoned marathoner or somewhere in between, you undoubtedly will suffer from this. 

You’ve conditioned your body for this race, but have you conditioned your mind? Check out these things that mentally strong athletes don’t do so that you too can become mentally strong.

  1. They Don’t Allow Their Minds to Run Free
    A mentally strong athlete knows the importance of staying in the moment and not allowing the mind to replay past events or project negative what-if scenarios. As soon as they wake up on race day, they take some quiet time for deep breathes, positive visualizations, and recognition of how fortunate they are to be able to compete in such an event. Remember that for most of us, anxiety is the default behavior in times of stress - mentally strong athletes short-circuit this by training the mind to focus on more positive emotions. 
  2. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Inadequate
    Mentally strong athletes don’t participate in negative self-talk that questions their readiness. Instead, they take responsibility for their level of fitness and accept the fact there is nothing more that can be done to increase their preparedness. They are the best athlete they can be on race day.
  3. They Don’t Waste Energy on Making Excuses
    A mentally strong athlete doesn’t make excuses. Complaining to your fellow athletes about your injured hamstring or your inability to maintain your training schedule because of work robs you of the dignity of perseverance that mentally strong athletes have. They recognize the things that can be controlled and the things that cannot be – and focus their energy on what can be controlled.
  4. They Don’t Compare Themselves to Others
    Mentally strong athletes don’t compare themselves to other athletes on race day. Doing so will just take you out of your race plan as you try to keep up with another athlete that you “should” beat. Unless you’re a professional, the only athlete you should be competing with on race day is yourself. Focus on your race plan, your splits, your pace and trust the work you put into planning for this event will result in achieving the goal you set for it.
  5. They Don’t Dwell on Past Negatives
    They don’t focus on negative events of the past and wish things could have been different. Instead, they recall memories of races in which they felt great, overcame massive obstacles, and achieved personal records. This provides the mentally strong athlete the necessary confidence and mental fortitude to continue when self-doubt starts to creep in at mile 18 - and reminds them how great they’ll feel when their mission is accomplished!
  6. They Don’t Allow the Jitters to Deter Them
    Mentally strong athletes perceive race day jitters differently than others and don’t allow them to negatively influence their mind-set. Instead, they remind themselves that having jitters is just adrenaline being released. It’s the body’s natural way of getting ready for the event – in this way, jitters can be used to fuel performance versus burning up vital energy before the race even starts.
  7. They Don’t Allow Others to Affect Them
    Crowded races and nervous athletes provide the perfect environment for mentally strong athletes to practice their mental fortitude. They don’t allow other athlete’s miscues to affect the positive mindset they’ve worked so diligently to develop. For example, if you’ve just had your goggles kicked off during your first triathlon – instead of being upset at the other athlete, just roll onto your back and take a few deep breaths as you fix your goggles. Ultimately, you have a choice on how you respond to these events. Mentally strong athletes look at them as just another obstacle they were able to overcome as they conquered the race.
  8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Twice
    They accept responsibility for miscues made on race day without self-judgement, learn from them and move on. Whether it’s not getting the proper amount of nutrition, forgetting to put body glide on sensitive areas, or going out too fast, mentally strong athletes do not allow negative self-talk resulting from mistakes to ruin race day performance. They learn from their past mistakes so that they can make better decisions in future races. 
  9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
    Mentally strong athletes appreciate and celebrate other’s success. They realize they’re just one thread of an amazing fabric of like-minded individuals where exercise and fitness is a true source of happiness. They aren’t resentful or sulky when others surpass them. Instead, they see this as an opportunity to celebrate a fellow athlete’s success and use it as incentive to work harder for their own chance at success.
  10. They Don’t Allow Failure to Intimidate Them
    Mentally strong athletes don’t view failure as a reason to give up or worse, not even try. They recognize that there are worse things in life than a DNF (did not finish) and take pride in the fact that they went out and gave it their maximum effort. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep working and training until they get it right.

The information we've provided above comes from our combined experience of literally hundreds of "race days" - the majority of which came with the jitters. In fact, we've found that the days when we didn't experience them, we had poor performances. So... you're not alone!  Expect them and use them to your advantage.  

If you need additional help, we've found Bobby McGee, 6-Time Olympic Coach, to be one of the best teachers available to help endurance athletes develop the necessary mental skills to maximize performance.  See one of his videos below:

Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes: 4 Mental Pathways to Success
Source: YouTube, Bobby McGee

That's it for this week's post. We hope you find this list as useful as we have for preparing for those inevitable race day anxiety attacks! If you have anything to add to this list or have comments on it, please don't hesitate to post them.

Keep on Running!

Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo

Julia & Patrick Owners and Coaches at Run & Tri Rehoboth Beach
(302) 727-5690
Rehoboth Beach Delaware Running Store & Triathlon Shop for Running Shoes

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