Race Day Planning, Part 2: The Pre-Mortem

Triathlete running out of the transition area
June 26, 2019

Will Murray



Everyone knows what a post-mortem is: examining a corpse to determine the cause of death. Gruesome, I know, but there is another kind of –mortem that can help you execute your races better. It’s the pre­-mortem. It's a proactive, pre-emptive exercise to help you build confidence and race successfully. The pre-mortem examines potential causes of failure before­ your race so you can plan for and address them before they happen. And avoid having many happen at all.

You already do post-mortems on your races, even your really good ones. “Oh, I had trouble getting out of my wetsuit, and that cost me an extra minute in transition.” “I dropped a bottle at the second bike aid station, and that threw me off my nutrition and hydration plan.” “All those rolling hills on the bike, I couldn’t help myself and powered over them, and the second half of my run was a horror show.” Post-mortems are all those little bits of evaluation that we all do after our races. “Ack, I was 20 seconds back from my PR, and I can see I left those 20 seconds in transition when I ran out without my race belt and had to go back for it. Sheesh.”

But what if you did this analysis before your race, to identify how to execute your race better and where to find those precious minutes and seconds?

Here’s where the pre-mortem comes in, and here's how to conduct one.

Step 1. Take out your written race plan (you do create a written race plan before your race, don’t you?). Review the steps of your race.

Step 2.  In your mind, transport yourself to beyond the finish line and answer this question: “What went wrong with my race today that cost me time?” Write down the list of things that come to mind.

Step 3.  Identify actions you will take to avoid or address the items in your list from Step 2. You may avoid some of these things by, for example, getting to the race venue early. You may address some of these items by learning how to repair your flat tire quickly.

Step 4. Reinforcing a concept from Race Day Planning Part 1, in your mind run a full-color movie (in 30-45 seconds) of your race going perfectly, having addressed all the items in Step 2.

Step 5. Also from Part 1, in your mind run another full-color movie (in 30-45 seconds) of your race going perfectly, having avoided the items in Step 2, since they never occurred at all. Follow up with a five-second version of this perfect movie.

That’s it.

At some point, we’ve all wished that we had done things differently during a race. You can avoid the regret and remorse by identifying before your race those things you will be sorry for after your race, making corrections and rehearsing your race in advance.

Will Murray is our Team’s go-to Mental Skills Performance Coach. He works with beginners to Olympians helping them use their heads to do more than just hold their hats! He is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and holds a Practitioner’s Certificate and more than 100 hours of advanced training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

This article was originally published with USAT on January 16th, 2019 and with Will’s permission, we are sharing it with D3 athletes here.

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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