My Mental Games – Mental Imagery in Training and Races

Over the last few weeks I’ve wanted to write about mental imagery as the subject of my next blog.  This was largely driven by the fact that during my recent training block in Kona, Matt Dixon, my coach, had me complete two significant runs in the Energy Lab and along the Queen K, which are sections of the Ironman World Championship run course that are notorious for soaring temperatures, few spectators, and the point where World Champions are made or broken (for context, the temperatures off the tarmac on the Queen K often hit 130F+; they say an egg can fry in less than a minute).  To succeed in this section of the course, mental toughness and preparation is critical (For a closer glimpse into one of the sessions fellow Purplepatcher Meredith Kessler and I did, take a look at this vid:


These two sessions were HUGE positive mental boosters for me – but not JUST in terms of my race prep for Kona.  They will act as key motivators for me in other training sessions throughout the year and in upcoming races, including the Ironman I will be racing this weekend in Melbourne.  I will draw up them and other important workouts time and time again.  They give me confidence to push past barriers, a belief in myself, and are a motivator for success.


Then, as I was preparing to leave for Australia, James (the boyf) and I spent a decent amount of time talking about the race, about my preparations, about how I was feeling, etc.  As we spoke I mentioned to him that I was feeling great and ready to put up a great bike and run, but with the inconsistency in my swimming the last few weeks – I just “hoped my swim would show up”.


For some background – In February I went to Hawaii for a pro camp with my fellow Purplepatch pros.  As I have mentioned before, I was nervous heading into the camp.  My swim progression in Santa Monica had been going very well and my overall swim confidence was up.  But I was worried that being the worst swimmer at the camp would actually set me back mentally.  However, the camp went great and seeing my progress relative to the rest of the team was a huge motivator for me.


One thing I have learned, however, is that high run volume and high run intensity too frequently has a strong negative impact on my swim training.  In Hawaii I had done three significant (and needed) runs to help prep me for Melbourne, but the result of that was a longer than normal recovery process in the pool once I got back to California.  And then, just as I was feeling better, a nasty bug side-lined me.  The result: some inconsistency in my swimming.


With my lack of confidence so glaring (despite knowing why my swim had been up and down), James looked at me square in the face, and told me to stop – right there.  He reminded me that even on my bad days in the pool, I’m still swimming faster than last year.  And that whatever happens out there, whether I feel good or not – worrying about it was only creating negative emotional stress and wasted energy.  I needed to work on positive mental imagery.  I needed to think only about feeling great in the water, and I needed to believe in myself and what I am capable of doing.  Talk about being put in my place!  But the truth is…he’s right.  And even though what he said is nothing I don’t already know, executing it on one’s weaknesses takes work.


With my biking and running – I have confidence in myself, and a belief in what is possible.  But with my swimming, I wake up every morning and head to the pool with an anxiety and nervousness – and lack of confidence – wondering – “will my swim show up today???”


My point?  Mental imagery is important and it MUST be incorporated into our training across sports, and with different purposes.


In running or on the bike I use mental imagery more as a facilitator to push through the pain of hard workouts or at difficult points in a race – to breakdown barriers.  Certainly those run sessions in Kona and many others will be instrumental to me this year.  They fuel me in training and races to know what is possible when you are hurting so badly you’re not sure you will make it.


But in the swim, the imagery is about building confidence in myself – learning to believe what I can do in the water – that takes more work.


This week I have been focusing on only the positives in my swim and providing myself with a lot of positive self talk when in the water, not allowing myself to doubt my swim progression and believing in what I CAN do – not what I can’t.


Ironically, when I took my passport out to fill out my customs form on the plane, I came across a fortune I had saved when I first moved out to LA – it is a quote by Walt Disney – “If You Can Dream It.  You Can Do It”.


Mental imagery is SO important and should be incorporated into our training in the same manner as nutrition and recovery.  And sometimes a swift kick in the butt can be all that it takes to re-focus our lens!


Big thanks to Verdict Digital and Purplepatch/ Matt Dixon for the great footage and vid of an epic training day!


Until next time, DREAM IT…and BE IT!





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