Mental training is a topic that we hear continuously in racing, but it continues to be a “hole” in many training plans. It’s one thing to talk about mental training and completely different to actually build a mental training plan and practice it DAILY – just like a physical training plan.
Here are a few techniques that I outlined in “Stronger Than Iron” that might offer insights to developing your own mental training plan.
Cycling – I learned over the years of racing in Ultra-Distance Triathlons that by just saying a mental statement to myself, “Stay on the bike.” works like magic. These personal affirmations repeated help especially when energy levels drop. Develop your own, one simple memorable statement.
Running/Biking Mental Technique – The Rope/ Magnet Technique – This strategy is highly effective during the later stages in the run or bike sections of the race. I call it my “rope technique.” Other experts call it the magnet concept. It’s a very simple concept that has worked for me for years. The technique can be implemented when you are at a crucial part of your specific race. Focus on a competitor that is in front of you that you can see up the road, and imagine this person has a rope around his waist and his energy is pulling you along.
The other thought is to think of the person with a magnet on his back, and you are “sticking” to them. Envision the magnet pulling you toward them. It might sound crazy if you have not practiced this basic mental-training technique, but it works! Just focus on the competitor and create a mental vision of them pulling you along.
If you tell yourself that they are doing all the work and use their energy to keep you maintaining their pace. Practice it regularly and you will see the results, especially late into a race when you are pushing the pace. Of course, you can call it something else and create a picture of anything to have the same benefits of using a competitor’s energy to pull you along. The next thing you know you will be passing them!
Top Six Extreme Mental Preparation Strategies: Use these strategies to incorporate into your training. These strategies should not be taken lightly. Start them gradually in terms of the total duration.
1. Bonk-Run Strategy: Plan on a slow run for several hours (four to six hours) and the key is to only drink water and some electrolyte capsules (carry food, gels, bars, etc.) during the run. Determine how long it takes (in hours) until you get very low on energy because of lack of calories — and then learn what it “feels like.” Eat, drink calories immediately to recover and regain energy. See how long it takes you to get back to a normal running pace again. This simulation of being in a bonk-down state trains your mind and body of what it will feel like potentially come race day. Of course, when finishing this run, rehydrate, drink your recovery drinks/foods immediately after finishing.
2. Stomach Distress Strategy: For those of you who have experienced gastro intestinal distress during a long race, it’s tough mentally to get back when the body and mind feel so bad. This technique is very brutal, but the goal is to stimulate stomach problems so you know how to deal with it. For those of you who never get stomach distress, I am jealous! The specific technique is to eat and drink items right before a run or bike that you know your body does not handle well. For example, I can- not eat yogurt or chocolate before a run or I will be in the bathroom for sure. So, what I do is to eat these items and force stomach problems in the bathroom (yes, this is brutal and sounds crazy and pretty nasty), but then I see how long it takes me to get back to a normal running stride and feeling good again. It’s purely simulation on how you will handle it if you have gastro intestinal problems during an Ultra-Distance Triathlon.
3. Blisters Strategy: You must know how to handle blisters if you’re susceptible to them in very long running races. It’s important that you learn how to fix your feet early.
What is the specific item you will use to treat blisters? Is it temporary or sometimes a nagging pain that cannot stop you unless very severe and infected? Don’t ever drop out of a race because of blisters, the pain is temporary but not finishing lasts forever! Also, the longer races may not only involve more blisters but severely swollen feet and numbness.
4. Forced Saddle Sores – Ultra Cycling Rookies – What’s the number one issue that causes so much pain – saddle sores? Incredibly painful – YES, but they can be managed. The toughest part is mentally how to push through the “adjustment” pain process until the healing occurs (they will heal a bit by repositioning on the saddle). The only way to get ready for them is to train a ton in the saddle – you will get saddle sores and then build a plan in your mind how to deal with them.
5. Long Indoor Bike Riding – Riding indoors can be very difficult mentally to stay on the bike and just keep spinning the legs with no coasting. Build very long 6-10 hour sessions and your head will change for sure!
6. Ultra Running Race Strategy (100-mile example)
Consider running a 100-mile or 24-hour running race with one key objective: finish the last six hours very hard. The key is to conserve your energy as much as possible during the early hours and get your mind focused on a very strong push late into the race. This technique will build mental strength to learn how to finish strong and run hard with significant fatigue.
Visualization – When you are training, visualize how you will feel during the race. Also, focus on checking in with your body to make sure you focus on breathing from the core and relaxing.
One additional item to consider into your daily routine is initiating a mindfulness practice. The calming of the mind, focus on the breath and being present will help get through the tough sections of the race.
If you don’t have a mental training plan, you are missing one of the most important aspects of racing and just as important as the “spreadsheet training program”. To change results – physical training is important, but changing your head is where the real measurable results will happen.