Lately I have been helping my athletes with something a little different. We have already taken care of the physical side. They have trained hard. They have trained smart. How do we make sure that translates on race day? One huge obstacle is in the way: Their minds. In order to perform your best you need to be mentally ready to endure the suffering of race day.
It is your brains job to put a governor on you and tell you to back off. Your brain wants to preserve your body to live to fight another day. It is not interested in PRs and doesn't know that you have a race schedule that allows for ample rest after this event. It wants to make sure if a Lion comes at you in ten minutes, you are still ready to go.
Step one in overcoming this is being physically prepared. The next step is knowing this is going to happen so that you don't let your mind fool you. The last step is flipping the equation. Use your mind to your advantage. You are a smart athlete. You have had success in workouts, in life, and likely in past races. You also most likely have an idea what you start to do wrong as you fatigue. For example, I tilt my head back, tighten my shoulders, and run with my quads.
I have athletes use this to create mantras. I tend to think of these a little differently though. I don't have them use some quote read from a book. This is an experience. A workout you nailed, a past race, or just a time when you needed to be extra gritty in life. I have athletes take these experiences and create a few words to spark that memory recall. So an athlete saying "I am strong" in their mind can really mean "I rode to the top of Lemmon so I am a strong cyclist." I also have athletes create form mantras. This is more simply positive reminders of how to perform. For me I remind myself that I run eyes forward and shoulders relaxed.
These two types of mantras have gotten me through a lot of dark places! No matter the race, you will struggle mentally at some point, that is just your brain doing it's job. Last up - don't forget to smile! The power of smiling and telling yourself you feel good is real. Make sure you are ready to use your brain to your advantage!