What were the lyrics again for that New Kids on the Block song? (I loved NKOTB as a kid and I'm not ashamed to admit it - though it was probably what kickstarted my love affair with terribly bad (yet oh-so-good at the same time) pop music). Come to think of it, I don't think the lyrics amounted to much more than Whooaa-hooaaa-hoooaaa-hoooaaaa hangin tough! Sums it up.
What's this have to do with triathlon? Other than having an obnoxious ear worm stuck on repeat for the entire bike ride, the whole concept of "hangin' tough" could be applied to the mental aspect of racing. I know this is my bajillionth post about mental this and mental that and blahblahblahblahblah. I clearly have NOT conquered my mental demons when it comes to racing since I keep circling back and harping on it time after time after time.
Since I started triathlon, I've made some progress when it comes to keeping it together mentally during a race. Prior to race day, I've visualized how I want my swimbikerun to play out - smooth long strokes on the swim with a high elbow catch; a strong bike with good cadence; a run where I push forward, even though I'm tired, and pass others with authority. Sometimes I'll throw these visualizations to music a la Mumford and Sons or U2. Kendra has a good entry on race visualization practices she uses on her blog.
There's the Central Governor Theory of Fatigue, which comes into play during races when the going gets tough. If you're feeling super nerdy, you can read this academic article by Tim Noakes. For the non-nerds (myself included), the Central Governor is basically the brain's protective mechanism that shouts warnings to us during hard efforts in exercise Hey, you're going too fast, how about slowing it down a bit!! or Sub-8 minute miles are overrated, trust me, you'll be more comfortable running easier! or What made you think you were cut out to race the fasties in your age group? Really, the Central Governor will say anything to get you to let up on the gas pedal, right down to doubting yourself and your abilities. Suddenly it becomes easier to say I guess today is not my day for X, Y, and Z reasons and you find yourself giving in, slowing down. As the nerdy academic article AND Wikipedia state, the Central Governor might be erring on the conservative side, and in reality, our muscles do, in fact, have alot more to give. The Central Governor is essentially a helicopter parent, trying to save us from ourselves.
But maybe we don't want to be saved. The key to success is quieting that voice and pushing past what you thought your limits were and breaking new ground - in the process, achieving times that you previously didn't think were possible. How do you do this? To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure, I haven't had much firsthand experience with it. But in reading the blogs of others (Jen Harrison, my coach, being a pretty awesome example), one of the obvious keys to success is having a goal, never losing sight of it, and relying on that goal and your pursuit of it to carry you through low moments in a race. Another thing - believe in yourself and your training and your abilities. Oh so cheesy, I know. But oh so true. I can't tell you how many race weekends I've gone into where, deep down, I haven't believed in my abilities. I'm still trying to figure out how to stuff away and hide my self-doubt. Because when you doubt yourself, it's easy to let the Central Governor win.
New goal for this weekend: Kick the Central Governor's ass in his own game.
Now excuse me while I go find those NKOTB lyrics on iTunes... I need an earworm for this weekend.