For months, you train hard.  You get up early before work to fit in your workout, you rush home from work to sneak in a second workout.  On the weekends, you sacrifice parties and lazy Sundays in order to get in those long rides and runs.  So why isn’t your race performance in line with what you can do in training?  Answer:  Mental Strength.

It has been said that 90-95 percent of endurance sports performance is mental.  Unfortunately, your mind wants to “protect” the body and wants you to shut it down way before your body is ready to quit.  Here are some strategies you can use in order to prepare yourself mentally for your race.

  • What do you want to have happen? Be very clear on the goal you are setting for yourself.  It could be something like keeping a comfortable pace in the swim, keeping your nutrition on point or running a pace you know you are capable of.  Focus on that and don’t let distractions take your mind off this.  Be very aware of where you are and what you are trying to accomplish on race day.
  • What are you thinking about? The thoughts you have and the way you are thinking about things have a very profound effect on your race performance.  You must turn every thought around into a positive.  For example, if what’s going through your mind is “Wow, it’s really hot out here and I am so thirsty”, you’ll want to flip that around to start thinking, “It’s hot but I’ve trained in conditions like this.  I could use a drink, thankfully the next water station is coming right up!”
  • If not sure, then invert. This one is a little tricky.  This only comes up if you do not know what to do in a situation.  It’s a little like process of elimination.  If you are not sure how to get your desired outcome, be sure to rule out anything you have done before that hasn’t worked for you.  For example, if you are doing long runs and you have been taking a gel every hour and are running out of energy, you now know that you need to change that to take in more calories.  This is something you should try first in training and then apply what works in training to your racing situation.
  • Circle of control. When in a racing situation, there are numerous variables that many athletes spend time worrying about (heat, hills, water temperature, wind, etc).  The fact is, stressing yourself out over things you cannot control is a complete waste of time.  This doesn’t mean ignoring what the conditions are, it means preparing for them both physically and mentally.  Race water temperature is 58 degrees?  OK, I will for sure wear my wetsuit.  I know the first 100 yards or so, I’m probably going to pick my head up a lot because of the temperature and I’m going to have to control my breathing.  My feet and fingers likely won’t be working so well when I get out, so I need to make sure everything I set up in transition is easy to maneuver.
  • Visualization. Many professional athletes use this; this simply means visualizing yourself being successful.  This usually starts way back in training.  Envision yourself achieving your goals out on the course.  One example (and I have used it myself many times), is to “see” yourself crossing that finish line – with great form, arms in the air, seeing the time you want on that finishing clock with a big smile on your face.  Think about it over and over and keep it top of mind during your race.  Even if you don’t hit that exact perfect goal, you are going to come a lot closer to it if you keep it in mind and stay positive rather than just throwing in the towel because something was a little off in your race.

The next time you get ready to race, review these strategies and use them to your advantage.  If you like these strategies and would like a few more, you can head over to and you can get the complete list of strategies to help you develop a stronger race day mentality.  If you’re already using some of these strategies and are still struggling to reach your goals, please feel free to contact me and we can walk through a plan together.

Train Right,

Coach MJ

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MJ Gasik started competing in the sport of triathlon in 2003 and has completed 12 Ironman distance races including the World Championships in Kona, HI. MJ is a USAT Certified Coach, Ironman U Certified Coach, USMS Level 4 Certified Coach and is the founder and owner of Tri Right Coaching. MJ has coached hundreds of athletes from beginners through elite to personal bests in distances from sprint through Ironman.


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