April 10, 2015
By Kris Parfitt
Photo at right: Olga Kotelko, 91, practices the long jump. Photo by Bruce Grierson
Preparing for your best race can take hours of training, but keeping your mind focused during the race is accomplishing the Jedi Master level of performance.
I gathered tips from a few wise athletic equivalents to Yoda and learned that along with extensive training programs there are five profound mental practices that can enhance performance, sustain stamina and quiet the inner chatter.
One of the most powerful strategies for any athlete, visualization is the practice of picturing yourself racing well along the course, upon the landscape, and in the elements.
When Beth Brewster, a six-time Ironman finisher who also has Ultraman credentials, was preparing for the Ultraman World Championships in 2013, she would spend time before the race visualizing how she wanted each day to go.
“I would think of the swim and imagine myself swimming strong,” says Brewster, who also owns Kingston Adventures. “I would think of the bike and imagine myself climbing the hills with power. For the run—which was tough—I did the same.” Brewster came in fourth out of nine women competing in the two-day 320-mile race divided into a 6.2-mile open-water swim, 261.4-mile bike ride with 6,000 feet of vertical climbing, finished by a 52.4-mile run.
Practice meditating by focusing on your breath and being present to, but not distracted by, your body and how it is responding to the environment around you.
The mental strength gained from meditation helped Olga Kotelko (1919 –2014) accomplish 30 world records between the ages of 77 and 95 years, and win over 750 gold medals in track events such as the long, triple and high jumps, shot put, javelin, discus and the 100, 200 and 400-meter sprints. She would wake at 2 a.m. every day to meditate and stretch, then return to sleep a few more hours.
Megahn Beacham, 33, is a Tough Mudder athlete, Sweaty Betty member, and Gociety.com trail team ambassador in Seattle. A few days before a big event, she says she definitely takes it easy.
“But I keep up with yoga. I like to do yoga in my own house the week of the race because I can practice on what I need to practice: my breathing and visualization.”
While honing your meditation and visualization practices, be mindful of any negative chatter in your head. Visualize yourself racing strong, steady and focused.
“I always think of a magical and strong horse running alongside me when I get to the place where I fear the pain getting too close to the goal of finishing,” says Brewster. “With every step I think of the muscles in its chest, its ease of stride and the determination in its breath. That ‘horse’ has taken me to many finish lines.”
Get your crew on board, share with your teammates what you each need to help get over the “I quit” blues, or to get through the eventual pain.
“I’ve done a few 32-hour adventure races,” shares Brewster. “In those you get so incredibly tired and depleted that as a team we would get creative in conversation to keep us going.”
“Commit to yourself before you commit to doing the race,” advises elite kayaking athlete Brandon Nelson, 44, of Bellingham, who broke the Guinness Book of World Records in 2013 for kayaking 151.87 miles on flat water in 24 hours.
“You’re training for a reason and you’re in this race for a reason,” he says. “How would you feel if you quit when it got too hard? That’s harder to live with long-term than the short-term pain during the race.”
When your body is in pain, your mind wants to give in first. Train your mind to commit to being as strong as your body by practicing meditation and visualization. As you train physically, also respectfully train your mind as though you are competing in the actual race. Doing so will give you the strength and confidence to continue racing when you and your team are most challenged.
To remind yourself to practice these Jedi Master tips during your race, imagine Yoda’s wise voice saying “Trained for this, you did. Got this, you do.”
Kris Parfitt is a certified nutritional educator and health and wellness coach. When Kris isn’t talking to athletic Jedi Masters she’s busy writing about nutrition and editing OutdoorsNW magazine. View her nutrition blog, Arrive@Thrive at http://arriveatthrive.blogspot.com/
For more on Brandon Nelson: outdoorsnw.com/2014/brandon-nelson-world-record-flat-water-kayaker
For more on Beth Brewster: outdoorsnw.com/2013/profile-ultra-woman-beth-brewster