You may have heard or read advice to “stay in the moment” when racing or training if you want to have a breakout performance, or make the most of a key training session. I know I’ve written about staying focused and being present more than once.
But, it’s not common to think about this advice in the context of race morning – the very moment when anxiety threatens to culminate in a potential freak out or meltdown.
Obviously, the meltdown scenario has to be avoided at all costs – or it may cost you a positive race day experience.
In the chaos of race morning, it can be especially challenging to stay present and focused on the moment. Pre-race preparations are mixed with pre-race anxiety which in turn can lead to a mind run amuk.
The blur of race morning.
Those pre-race moments are an essential part of race day, as they set the tenor of the day, how we will feel, and how we will approach the expected–and more importantly, how we will deal with the unexpected.
Despite our best efforts, race morning is usually a whirlwind of anxious activity. It can seem like a time lapse sequence: skip, skip, skip, pause. Skip, skip, skip, pause.
We may mindlessly go through all of the motions, failing to focus on the present moment and the task at hand. I’ve learned (mostly from making mistakes) that a more mindful race morning is one of the keys to a successful day.
It’s taken concentrated mental training, but over time, I’ve learned to (sort of) enjoy the pre-race moments rather than to dread the anticipation. Those moments of pre-race energy can supply us with mental energy to overcome the challenges of the day – or they can deplete our will and leave us with little spark when we need it most.
I should know. I’ve done it both ways. I’ve messed up race morning badly and paid for it later. But, in recent years, I’ve learned to better control my emotions, and to approach race morning as an integral part of the day’s process.
When I did Lake Placid in 2013, the pop “classic” (a term used very loosely here) “I just want to feel this moment” was popular. When I trained leading into that race, I would listen to this song during some of my runs. I imagined myself on the shore of Mirror Lake in a huddle of bodies waiting for the start of the race. I imagined myself looking across the lake and seeing the familiar “V” shapes of the mountains tattooed against the horizon. I imagined myself feeling that moment.
The shores of Mirror Lake, before Ironman Lake Placid 2013. Those mountains in the horizon are the perfect landmarks for sighting, that is, if you don’t find yourself on the underwater cable.
When that race morning finally came, it was the first race that I remember feeling calm. Sure, I was ready and excited to start, but I had a sense of peace like I had never experienced before. The benefit of that peace was that I was able to focus on the moments and feel the energy of race morning in a way that fueled me for the rest of the day. After the race, during our post-race “re-cap”, John noted that I was fearless. I think that’s the best compliment he has ever given me–given my long history of dealing with fear.
I remember being in transition before the race started, and instead of frantically careening through my duties, I was unruffled and immersed in the things I needed to do.
I prepared my bike bottles, double checked my gear bags, donned my wetsuit, and took my spot on the beach in front of Mirror Lake. As I did each of these things, I felt myself fully in that moment and focused only on bottles, then only on gear bags, then only on the wetsuit, and then only on the feeling of the cool sand between my toes, sucking in the energy from the bodies exhaling around me, and looking into that mountain-rippled horizon, knowing that I would be a part of it soon enough.
On race morning, we (myself included) can focus too much on just getting this thing started already such that we fail to soak in the pre-race energy and use it as much-needed mental fueling. For a first time experience, especially, we can let our monkey mind get away from us.
My advice: just don’t let that monkey mind wander. Don’t let yourself escape the beautiful pre-race energy. Stand on the shore. Huddle with the bodies. Feel that moment.
We have so few extraordinary moments in our lives; we can’t afford to let them pass by unnoticed, unappreciated. I believe the heightened awareness and tingling excitement of race morning is just such an opportunity to hit the pause button – even if only for few brief moments.
Feel this moment. Feel your moment. This is your day to be extraordinary.