How Do You Know?

It feels like it has been ages since I last raced. And it kind of is. My last full triathlon of any kind was Eagleman about two months ago (really -- has it been that long?!) Then there was another Olympic last month that I opted to just swim and bike and then stopped before the run because I was still coming off a short running-hiatus after E-man and because it was like a billion degrees (lame excuse, I know). But even though I've been biking a lot, mostly the never-ending hills of Skyline (as I attract every single bear in the entire Shenandoah National Park), and even though I've been running faster than I have in quite a few years, I'm starting to second guess some...

For some reason, that little voice of doubt is louder than ever going into this next race. I'll admit, it doesn't totally make sense since it's a Rev3-produced race (awesome race-day execution!) and it's "just" an Olympic distance... so everything should come together as planned on Sunday. (Yup, that's right, I'm headed to the Dells!)

Part of that pre-race insecurity may come from the fact that my trusty Quarq stopped holding a battery charge a few weeks back and I've had to ship it back for repairs. But it's not like I've been flying totally blind: I still have my HR, my pace, my RPE, etc.... but taking away my tool has helped me realized just how much I depend on it during day-to-day training. It really is amazing to consider how using power has fundamentally changed the way I train, race and even prepare mentally. But does it extend my boundaries or does it draw a line in the figurative sand as to what is actually possible?

I don't know about you, but I struggle when it comes to gauging effort by heart rate. Sure, it's a decent barometer... but I find that if I actually bike my "Z2" heart rate, my power doesn't always correlate nicely. I still haven't grasped (most likely because I am training by power and not heart rate) where my target heart rate should be in any given set. And although we're now leaps and bounds away from the original point of the post here, I guess what I'm trying to say is that all of this confusion has resulted in me clueless as to how Sunday's race is going to treat me.

So how DO you know you're ready for race-day?

Is it a certain workout? Certain number of watts for certain number of minutes? Hitting your intervals in the pool and paces on the track?

We were actually firing off tweets about discussing the 140.6 distance at the time but I think their comments apply across the triathlon spectrum: Jordan suggests faith, Katie says a strong support system and trust in your coach and Jamie implies that you have to love training and put in the work.

I guess I adhere to a combination of all three but, as a data geek, I can't help but let my pre-race mood fall based on the cold, hard numbers. And since I don't have those this time around, I've decided that my new pre-race mindset moving forward should be based not on numbers but on Mental Toughness.

The following thoughts came from Joe Friel originally and have been saved in my GoogleReader queue for quite some time now. I read for the first time a few weeks ago, and I've probably subconsciously skimmed it forty other times as I wondered what I should do with the post briefly, before just checking the "Mark Unread" box instead and leaving it for later.

In his post, Joe Friel mentions that people often ask him about the hows and whys when it comes to pushing yourself though athletic suffering. He describes an HBR article covering a study comparing Olympic medalists and successful business people, both of which tend to share the following traits: 

  • have the ability to psychologically manage pressure
  • pay meticulous attention to goals
  • have a strong inner drive to stay ahead of the competition
  • be internally rather than externally focused
  • be self-directed
  • concentrate on excellence
  • not be distracted by others
  • shrug off their own failures
  • be masters of compartmentalization in their lives
  • rebound from defeat easily
  • never self-flagellate
  • have a relentless focus on the long term attainment of goals
  • carefully plan short-term goals
  • never stop striving for success
  • reinvent themselves following a success
  • celebrate their wins
  • analyze the reasons for their success
  • be very confident of their abilities

And while I think all of the above are spot on, some of these traits are also what lead to folks like me turning themselves into little self-doubting balls of stress leading up to the day of the race.

My goal, then, from now to Sunday's finish line, is to focus the most of the highlighted traits above... and to worry a little less about the others. There is no "Perfect 10" in triathlon (or gymnastics for that matter, but you know what i mean) so I might as well prepare myself mentally for having the best day that I can, regardless of who else shows up and regardless of the distance I've been training more these days. Or as I wrote in my pre-race notes to my coach, "TUNNEL VISION".

Sounds like I'm just having a touch of performance anxiety... yep, that's probably it.