With one of the most legendary battles in a pool happening last night, Michael Phelps vs. Chad Le Clos in the Men’s 200M Butterfly, I wanted to highlight the mental side of the race prep. Physical training, which is clearly essential, is where most advice ends. However the mental training is what makes the biggest difference in the outcome.
In Meb’s book “Meb For Mortals” he has an entire chapter about training your mind for the battle. As mortals we may not be competing with a rival side by side, yet by paying for an event you’re taunting the course. There are key steps below in order to PREPARE for a race event – mentally.
Both swimmers have dominated the sport, Chad even beating Michael in 2012 Olympics. Both swimmers have been gearing up for this battle for 4 years, with taunting even. In these photos you see that on game-day Chad was not mentally prepared to have Michael swimming beside him again.
Michael demonstrates not only fiery DETERMINATION to focus on the task, but also CONFIDENCE to focus on himself. These abilities take time! This ability is no accident, nor is it something anyone is born with. At the speed they are going, every single detail can make or break the outcome. Chad ended not even tasting the podium.
Michael knew that Chad’s physical ability had already been displayed and that this would be a battle. Michael knew he could fulfill the distance and the pace he was trained to swim. What he could control was his mind, so he wasn’t being over-confident. Michael in this picture is preparing his brain to be in the water with Chad. Chad is being over confident and childish SEE THE VIDEO.
As mortals we pay to race just to reach a personal goal we set. If we value our time invested into training, we are taking ourselves seriously in hopes to build confidence to attempt more goals! Below are the steps Roger has shared with me from his experience in various sporting teams he’s been a part of. His mental coaching has helped me tremendously. These steps also help me train efficiently for the “opponent”, aka the race course I’ve selected, instead of blindly and aimlessly going through the motions.
Step 1 – Study The Course profile: Lookup the race elevation changes, turns, aid stations. Pace has be adjusted based on these aspects, and it’s too late to decide the pace when you’re already started the race!
Step 2 – Preview The Course physically: Visit the race location as soon as possible to see the route. In the least preview by car, bicycle is better, and preferably incorporate parts of the course into training workouts. If you’re traveling there, like we had to for NYC Marathon, use the YouTube course video previews to visualize how the route profile looks and what you’re working with. If available, other athlete race reports teach tips.
Step 3 – Cater Training to The Course: Using the course profile, take your strengths and weaknesses, to create simulation training routes. In the San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon, the first half had short sharp uphills with mostly flat which invite a half marathon PR and the second half had the 163 uphill at mile 20-23, that ended in a smooth 5k with a sharp short uphill at the finish. The miles long hill climb after running 18 miles were vital to prep for. Those short sharp uphills on tired legs were vital to prep for.
Step 4 – Prepare for the behavior of other athletes: Mentally preparing for changes in your surroundings of an event are just as important as the course “opponent”. Surprises — bathroom lines, suddenly leading a race, someone passing you (in a costume? younger? older? guy? girl?), someone bumping into you, someone who taunts you verbally, and of course someone who you know is much faster than you showing up — could throw you off your race plan. You can’t prevent this, but you can control your reaction:
- Arrive early enough to get your mind calm and out of bathroom lines ASAP!
- Remember your training and the pace that you’ve worked to maintain
- Stay confident and steady, many times you’ll end up passing out the eager beaver who couldn’t maintain the random surge.
- Sprint towards the finish! IF that person beside you is in the finish line shoot then Please. Go. Chase. Them!
Step 5 – Build a mental Sidekick: Quiet the deafening self-doubt with every endorphin feeling you’ve saved up in training. I have a (family learned) inclination to be my worst enemy with so much self-doubt, excuses and habitually talk myself out of trying something unknown. As you put in the work in training, jot down the lesson learned & how it felt to complete that session. The week before the race, look back at your training log notes to fuel your confidence side-kick. When it’s game time, all you have is your mind to push you through. The mental side-kick will remind you not to give up on yourself, believe you can, and the value of your goal.
At a glance, training for an event just sounds like hours of sweating, feeling discomfort, and being bored out of your mind. But, the mental preparation will give your sessions a focus and a foundation where the details can be ironed out (i.e. nutrition, outfits that work best for you). Prepare your mind for the goal, for the opponents, and for your own self doubt. Setup a specific goal with a deadline, in order to be able to hold yourself accountable. A goal without a plan is just a dream.