Mental Preparation for Racing

with Crystal Anthony

You’ve probably heard some form of the quote: “racing is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical.” Recent research has explored the interdependence of the body and mind, showing that it is more accurately 100 percent mental and 100 percent physical! In any case, there’s no denying the powerful role of the mind on performance. 

But what exactly is a mentally tough athlete? What drives athletes to keep their head in the game and push themselves? Two things:

  1. Mentally tough athletes want it. The reward you’re working toward outweighs any discomfort or adversity you experience. Check in with yourself to make sure the goals you have are the ones that excite you! Are you really pursuing what you love? Only you can answer this question. It’s easy to get caught up in which races are trending, which ones your friends are doing, or which races you have always done before. Make sure you are planning a season that you are motivated to tackle. 
  2. Mentally tough athletes have prepared their mind just as much as their body. Being mentally tough is about making sure your mind is equipped, fresh, and unencumbered.

So, what goes into preparing your mind for race day? In short, first think of everything, then focus on one thing.

Crystal Anthony at Cape Epic

Part I: Think of Everything

  • Get your logistics in order: One of the best things you can do to reduce mental strain on race day – therefore allowing yourself the most energy to devote to racing – is to plan ahead. Make sure your travel arrangements are in place (flights, hotel, rental car, etc). Research what equipment changes you may need to make (tires, chainring, etc). Plan out the nutrition and hydration you’ll need and make sure you have those supplies in stock. If you have media or other obligations along with race prep at the event, make a schedule for when you will pre-ride, get to the venue, etc. Plan your meals in advance so you don’t get caught out with hours between getting fuel! Make a packing list (an actual list!) and work on that before the last minute.
  • Conduct research on your competition: There can be two unhelpful extremes when it comes to surveying the competition. Some people ignore the start list because they don’t want to know, “I’ll psych myself out.” On the other end of the spectrum are those who constantly check the start list and then head to Strava and social media to see who has been doing what training. Neither of these strategies is helpful. Still, it is good to know some things about your competition. Do calm and purposeful research, like looking up the results of the other racers and reading their race reports to help you determine what kind of racer they are. Making an inventory from experience on everyone’s strengths and weaknesses can help you develop a race day plan relative to your competitors.
  • Consider your racecraft: Go over the course in your mind and figure out the general flow: where are the hard vs easy parts? Where is it important to use energy versus conserving? What will be the keys to a successful race, and where do you need to really suffer to make that happen? What are your areas of strength and weakness on the course? How will you apply your fitness and skills effectively?
  • Curate your portfolio of mantras and life lessons: Having a collection of mantras can be so helpful when things get hard in a race. Sayings like, “keep moving forward,” and, “smooth is fast,” can help you stay focused and navigate tough parts of a race on autopilot. If you have an epiphany during a workout or read something insightful, put those lessons in your collection too. It’s impossible to plan for everything in advance, so having a healthy library of instructions in the back of your mind will help you make those mid-race decisions.
Crystal Anthony's pre-race prep

Part II: Focus on One Thing

  • Narrow your focus: Once you have the above broader mental tasks done, you can start to narrow your focus on just the race itself. Getting into race mode is instinctual as long as you have all your necessities in order. What this means for you may be different from other people. For me, this means blocking out time in my schedule from meetings, calls, and other tasks. It means taking a break from lots of social media. Making sure I don’t take on an exhausting project. If you have unresolved points of tension in your life, make a plan for a time to address them after the event, then let them go. You need to taper your mind just like your body! Ensure your mind is rested.
Crystal Anthony at the start for Leadville 100

Now you are at the start line. You have done your research, then you have blocked out all the outside noise and let your mind rest. At the start line, own your space but don’t hog it. Take in your surroundings but don’t hyperfocus on anything. Remind yourself of your key strategy goals, and of the parts on course where you need to use all of your energy to suffer. You’ve educated yourself, so once the race starts, let those racer instincts take over!