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Sport Psychology: Ten Sarcastic Race Day Tips


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A frustrated triathlete told me that the "best" advice I ever gave him was the off-handed, tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he purposefully swim slower in his next race to try and ensure that less people will pass him on the bike. Thankfully, he didn't take my advice to heart. However, my recommendation helped him with a more significant problem than his slow bike time - he had lost his sense of humor. Thus is the inspiration for the following sarcastic tips.  Just to be clear, the rule when reading these is to do the opposite of whatever the tip advises.

1) Wait till race morning to pack your tri bag. Pre-dawn sprints from the clothes line in your basement to the tri bag in your bedroom result in a natural and refreshing adrenaline high.

2) If you are new to triathlon, don't bother practicing in open water prior to your race. The water is apt to be dank, dark, and cold and trying it out before race-day will spoil the surprise. Stick to pool training and maximize the chances that you will get to meet a few friendly kayakers and give them something useful to do.

3) Since you already know how to bike-you learned at age 8-it is fine to borrow your neighbor's tri bike a week before the race. After all, if you haven't used clipless pedals before, what's the worst that can happen? Even if you get stuck in the clip, lose control, and crash into someone, you still get to keep the free wicking shirt they handed out at the Expo.

4) Use reverse psychology to tell yourself that you are a great runner even if it isn't true. True triathletes say "reality be damned!" This psychological tool also applies to returning from injury. Just race as if you were never injured and didn't miss any training time. The take home message is that you don't have to let reality run the show.

5) If your legs are feeling really good as you taper for your next race, it means you should make up new race-day goals. Ignore your coach's overly conservative advice about sticking to the original game plan. The coach obviously doesn't realize that you are going places!

6) Mentally approach the race as if where you finish is really important-not just to you but to the rest of us as well. It's mostly (but not totally) self-centered to assume that this whole triathlon thing is mostly about you.   

7) Start comparing yourself to others as soon as you get out of your car. Focus right in on how your helmet doesn't look sperm-like, how your love handles stick out from your tri suit, and how much calmer everyone else appears to be.  After all, frequent comparisons are the best way to understand why others are superior to you, and can teach you where you need to improve.

8) Get rid of those new-agey recommendations about "embracing the pain." This season is about out-toughing the pain. When your legs are aching, create an even more painful picture in your head, like the dreadful image of your muscles ripping off the bone, so that the actual physical pain seems like nothing in comparison. Embracing the pain is for wimps!

9) Despite what has been said about the top pros continuing to have doubts and insecurities (even during races), don't allow yourself any such mental weaknesses. In other words, if you feel like quitting during the race, you really should. Just thinking about stopping means you need to psychologically go back to the drawing board.

10) The best way to build confidence is to do tough workouts a few days before your race. It is worth the effort, even if your legs feel like lead on race day. Besides, if worst comes to worst, you can always claim that you trained too intensively. You've got yourself covered!
 Dr. Mitchell Greene is a triathlete and sport psychology consultant. To reach Dr. Greene, go to

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