Avoiding Regrets on Race Day

Triathlete crossing the finish line with a huge smile on his face.
February 4, 2024

Will Murray


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For many athletes in the middle of winter, race day feels far, far away.  And yet, this is the time of year when races are won and goals are achieved.  Athletes who get in their off-season training build the platform for the increases in intensity and volume in the months ahead.  And that’s how they achieve their goals come race season.

But…the races seem just so—distant.  And it’s cold and wet and the days are short and the nights are dark.  It’s easy for you to lose focus on the race calendar and skip some workouts or decide not to execute your workouts as planned.  In addition to breaking your coach’s heart, your veering off your training plan now will catch up with you later, when it’s too late to make up for what you could be doing in the months before race season.

How do you maintain the focus and exercise the resolve to do right now what you will wish with all your heart that you had done come race day?  Let’s talk about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Our friend Polly had signed up to climb Kilimanjaro, highest mountain in all of Africa at 19,340 feet above sea level.  It’s a long, sustained hike to the top, and a long, sustained walk back to the start.  Polly had never done anything like this and didn’t really know where to start to prepare for the expedition.  So we put together a training plan aimed at giving Holly the physical stamina to make the summit (and return safely—key point and main goal).  The plan included the mental stamina for long days of climbing in the increasingly thin atmosphere.

I asked Polly what she would do the minute she reached the summit.  Polly burst out: “I will throw my arms up in the air like this!”  So, we included, in every single workout, when she got to the top of the hike or turnaround point in the climb, that Polly would throw her arms up in the air like this just as though she had summited Kilimanjaro.  Polly imagined what it would feel like to attain the summit and how happy she would be—like this!

We also trained Holly to throw her arms up at the end of every workout, just as she would when safely back down the mountain.

This little technique—making an image of what it will be like to attain your goal and linking it to every single workout—helped Polly through the months of training for her distant goal.

You can do the same.  Here’s how.

Step 1. Right now today, make an image of how you want to feel at the end of your race (first race, most important race—you pick).  See yourself having achieved your goal for that race.  Feel the sensations of accomplishment.

Step 2.  Select the gesture that you will make after crossing the finish line—arms in the air like Polly, blowing kisses to the crowd, shaking hands with your competitors.  Right now, do that gesture-like this!

Step 3.  At the turnaround and at the finish of every workout, do that gesture.  If you feel embarrassed to do it if there are people around, do a smaller version or find a private place to do it.  Do this at the end of every single workout.

That’s it.  It really is that simple.  Your brain will get acclimatized to this little victory and help you focus now on your distant goal.

Ask Polly.  She made it to the summit of 19,000-foot Kilimanjaro strong and fit and returned safely.  Like that!

Mental Skills Performance Coach Will Murray often hears triathletes saying that the sport is at least 50% mental and 50% physical, but he has come to notice that athletes spend very little (if any) time doing mental training. Fortunately, it’s easy and fast to train-up your mind to help you achieve your triathlon goals. He’s been lucky enough to bring mental conditioning techniques to first-time athletes and Olympians, kids and seniors, triathletes who want to finish the race, and those who are gunning to win.

Will is a USAT Certified Coach, holds a practitioner’s certificate and more than 100 hours of advanced training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified administrator of the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories Protocol. Will is co-author, with Craig Howie, of The Four Pillars of Triathlon:  Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes and Uncle: The Definitive Guide for Becoming the World’s Best Aunt or Uncle.

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