Visualization and the Athlete

Lake Erie from Edgewater Park in Cleveland, OH during USAT Nationals on August 9, 2018

Lake Erie in Cleveland is known for its fickle ways, changing from smooth as glass to a washing machine of waves in a short amount of time, bringing with it sudden changes in weather. Any local will tell you to watch out for its rip currents. So, how do you prepare for something like that as an athlete?

USAT Nationals will be held in Cleveland, OH again this year at Edgewater Park, and, yes, you do have to prepare for the unexpected. Last year, I watched the Lake go from smooth to choppy, with waves over three feet high, in the course of thirty minutes, making it difficult for athletes to sight. Many of them swam for 1.2 miles instead of the 1500 meters of an Olympic distance event.

As an athlete, you practice the swim, bike, and run often in your training, eat the right things (mostly), and carve out time for rest in your busy day, but if you’re not practicing visualization and positive self-talk, you’re missing out.

Here’s why.

  1. See it: Practice visualizing how the race will unfold. Look up photos of the area where you’ll be racing so it will be familiar to you. Think of how you’ll set up transition, practice your race day plan and working with your gear in a mock transition to further reinforce your daily visualizations, and see yourself moving through the different segments of the race. Most of all, see yourself crossing that finish line, one step at a time.
  2. Plan it: Because you’ve spent time thinking about how your race will go, there is nothing new. However, if something new does come up, you can think about how you’ll work through those difficulties with a plan of action–dropping a bottle on the bike, getting a flat, dealing with a crowded swim field, handling heat or cold on the bike or run. Besides having a plan for the unexpected, have an overall race day plan of what you’ll eat and drink and when. Know how you will pace the race based on the course and terrain. All of this will help with your anxiety levels.
  3. Practice it: In addition to thinking through the unknown, develop a ritual before the race, practice your transition with all of you gear, and then visualize how it will all happen. A good ritual to have is: set up your gear, eat the same thing you normally do right before the swim, and find a quiet area or sit for a moment in transition to focus on your breathing (maybe even listen to music or headphones). When you’re ready to get in line for the swim start, focus on being calm in the crowd by breathing and visualizing your swim. In addition, practice the skills you’ll need such as changing your tire, setting up transition, eating and drinking on the bike and run, etc. It’s also a good idea to train for the swim, bike, and run in places with terrain that resembles your goal race.
  4. Win: No, everything won’t go according to plan all the time, but more often than not, you’ll be successful. Looking on the positive side will also help you learn from your mistakes so you can move on and become a better athlete.

See. Plan. Practice. Win.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.