Visualization, vi•su•al•i•za•tion, vi-zhə-wə-lə-ˈzā-shən
: The formation of mental visual images
Talk to any elite or professional triathlete and each and every one will gladly offer advice and describe to you what makes them successful. See, we triathletes are a unique bunch. Never will you find a triathlete, at any level, that is not willing to offer-up suggestions for success or ways to avoid pit-falls. Actually most are actually eager to help and share experiences, and the encouragement novice athletes receive from their professional and elite peers is sort of amazing in this world of self-centeredness.
I have been fortunate enough to consult with, train with, and race with some of the best in our sport. We have competed at an intense level, and we have communicated at an intense level – usually serious and focused, but always exciting and fun.
Personally, I recall three very important stages in my journey as an elite endurance athlete.
One season I hit a glass ceiling. No matter how hard I trained, pushed, worked, or raced, I was not improving. I had podium finishes and good race results, but I felt that I had more inside the machine that was not coming out. That same year I met World Champion and Olympic athlete Andy Potts. His thoughts on heart-rate training changed everything for me. He shared some of his practices that I applied to my training, and I recognized wonderful results.
Several years later I met Matty Reed. We discussed how nutrition is an enormous factor in triathlon and all endurance sports, and how a good nutrition plan (including race-day nutrition) can make or break an athlete. We discussed what did and did not work for us, what we changed and how we made adjustments, and how those adjustments impacted our performance. Another major milestone.
And most recently, I have had the extreme pleasure to talk with Mirinda Carfrae on multiple occasions. We discussed many things, like our passion for the sport, the fact that we are all gifted, and have God given talents. How we utilize those talents is what makes the difference between a couch potato and an Ironman World Champion. Rinny says that her gift is the ability to run… – Hard to dispute! But we also discussed the importance of visualization.
Ok, at first I thought, “Yeah, right… this is stupid and will have no bearing on my performance”. Let me tell you, this has become the most powerful tool in my bag of tricks. I visualize the course, the competition, the feeling of the water, how my heart will feel as it is pounding during the last few miles of the bike, the adrenaline shooting through my body as I approach the finish chute, and the cheers and sounds of the crowd at the finish line; even mechanical items like visualizing my bike components functioning flawlessly and running shoes feeling perfect with every stride. I visualize swimming, biking, and running injury-free and focus on my body mechanics and how proper form makes me more efficient. And, here is the kicker: I do not only do this on race-morning, moments before the start. I do this daily, all season long – sometimes when I lay down to go to sleep, sometimes when I spend boring hours on the bike trainer, occasionally when I am doing countless laps at the pool or swimming an open-water group swim. And I DEFINITELY do it just before the race start.
So if you see me in transition, setting up my gear on race morning, I may not seem to be the friendliest or most jovial athlete. I may well have that “off-in-the-distance” stare, or seem very pre-occupied. I am in my zone – taking in all of the sounds and excitement of race morning and visualizing the awesome endeavor I am about to undertake.