Brain Training For Race Day

Jan 29, 2013   //   by Neil Scholes   //   Triathlon And Endurance Coaching  //  1 Comment

In this two-part article, I wanted to look at some aspects you can work on to ensure that when race season comes upon you that your mental form will be as sharp as your fitness. Indeed for many endurance athletes tuning up the grey matter is no less important than having a well-planned taper or a sound nutrition plan. When it comes to the race you will have the fitness you have, and there is nothing more you can do about that. However before, during and after the race your mental form continues to play a part and by being mentally strong you can improve that race-day focus and performance.

Trust in Your Training

A solid, specific and consistent training plan is the core of every single world record, championship title, age-group victory and personal best. Without that solid programme for developing then maintaining your fitness, no amount of mental training will enable you to achieve your goals. However, most triathletes are rarely short on training. So trust in your fitness as you approach your race. Count on that fitness to take you through any tough moments. If during a race you feel like it is coming apart at the seams, try to remember a similar time in training and draw strength from the fact that you got through that and you’re racing today. You’ve put in the work, and it will fortify you with what it takes to do what you have set out to accomplish.

Try Visualisation Techniques

There are many forms of this simple technique. In essence, you want to go through your race from start to finish, creating a mental picture by seeing it happen just the way you’d like it to unfold. You can imagine you are watching a TV and seeing yourself perform but a more powerful method is to view the scene as if coming from your own eyes. This may take some working on and just like any new skill you will have to develop it. If a stumbling block comes up in this mental imagery of the race, figure out how you would deal with it calmly and deliberately.

Expect the Unexpected

With my long distance triathletes I often say to them “tell me exactly what is going to happen to you for 8/9/10 hours tomorrow and then see how that changes when tomorrow comes”. The point being that this is exactly the same as a race; you have a plan that says I’m going to cycle at X watts, Y heart rate and it will take be Z minutes however what happens if you puncture, what if it’s hotter than expected, what if you have GI issues. For every scenario you can create big races conjure up hundreds of others that could never anticipate. So have a race day plan but expect the unexpected and remain flexible to work through or around issues rather than letting them rattle your confidence.

Don’t Take it Personally

Racing is intense. That is the bottom line. If you wanted to go easy and not be challenged then stay at home and train in a controlled environment. Racing is testing you in controlled chaos. If your legs hurt, if your bike isn’t quite right, if you puncture, get kicked in the head in the swim, can’t find your transition bag, or if you are plain just suffering then don’t take it personally. The race, the weather, your competitors are not engaged in a personal vendetta against you. Just remember that no matter what the day throws at you that you have done the training. Every athlete from the race leader to the last finisher goes through similar mental challenges on race day so you are not alone out there. Draw strength from your fellow racers; you are all in this together.


This is one of the most important skills any athlete can develop. Keep your mind calm. You can practice this skill in training. We all know that positive thoughts are great but in the hours and hours of long course racing it is tough for anyone to remain positive. So practice just thinking about nothing. Associate with your power/hr/form/cadence or some element of the skill and if this is all in order then disassociate and keep your mind quiet. The next time you are out training, practice moving between these two states.

These are all skills you can work on and in my next article I will give you some more to work on. In the meantime consider these points and work towards achieving a mind/body union that gets the best out of your race day performance.

About The Author

Neil is one of the most knowledgeable endurance coaches you'll ever be likely to meet, both in terms of qualifications and valuable experience. He's well into his second decade in the sport of triathlon and third decade as a competitive runner.

In recent years Neil has worked with Runners, from those looking to complete their first 5k through to Elites racing the Olympic Marathon, and Triathletes, from those looking to finish their first ever sprint event, through Age Group medallists at World Championships, Ironman Age Group winners to the Elite Squad at University of Bath.

As an accomplished Ironman triathlete, Neil races for Royal Navy Triathlon and has represented Great Britain at Age Group Level across various distances.

2013 has seen him run a sub 3hr at the Rotterdam Marathon, then complete his second 56 mile Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa in June; he is now making his return to racing Ironman Triathlon.

Neil is available for Triathlon & Running Coaching.


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