Start, Middle or End??

  |   Coaching, Endurance, Psychology, Racing, Recovery, Training, Triathlon

Recently our friends over at ForGoodnessShakes (@BringOnTomorrow) posted a tweet which posed a great question – which line do you prefer the most, the start line or the finish line? It made me stop and think for a moment, first about my own opinion, but then slightly longer about what a persons answer might say about their racing psychology and in turn how nerves can make or break a race. Now there’s a can of worms to open!

First things first, what was my reply? Well, I was suitably indecisive, and as a coach i’ve got to love both, so i voted it a tie, but from the replies, many out there obviously have a clear favourite. What that says about me I don’t know (or i’m not admitting it yet anyway!) but it led me to wonder if the possible answers would fit with the different types of athlete that exist out there…

Come race day there are generally three types of athlete on the line:

  1. Those whose training performance and racing performance are of equivalent levels
  2. Those who somehow manage to perform in a race at a higher level than they train
  3. Those who seemingly cannot match their level of training in their racing performance

So all things being equal, what’s the difference? Primarily it tends to be a psychological thing and how we as an individual deal with the stress and nerves ahead of a race. Many people think that nerves are a bad thing, and you always hear the old saying ‘don’t be nervous’ ahead of a race but actually that nervous energy can be a good thing, as long as its not excessive and we know how to deal with it.

From my experience, those athletes who look forward to the race and cant wait for the starters gun are usually the ones who can outdo their training performances. This is because their positivity about their ability and training helps them usefully channel that energy into their performance, helping them achieve that little extra. Perhaps these are the athletes who prefer the start-line?

The athletes who tend to under-perform in races are usually the ones who let those nerves get the better of them, concentrating on the training they haven’t done and the sessions they’ve missed. The doubts and negativity soon pile up and unsurprisingly all this works against them, seizeing them up when it matters most and reducing performance levels. If the race makes you that nervous then surely the euphoria of finishing makes the finish-line where it’s at and a sure-fire favourite?

Then there’s the fence-sitters like me, who love the start-line and the finish-line equally. Nerves in this case neither help or hinder the race, making the whole thing enjoyable so why would you have a favourite? Incidentally, I happen to train and race at the same performance level…

Of course I have no scientific data to back up my wild claims here, just anecdotal evidence from my experiences as both an athlete and a coach, but it seems to me that there might be something in it and one of these days I might even get round to trying to prove it. Until then you’ll have to make your own mind up, but think about it and feel free to let me know, drop a tweet (@coachkinetics) or a message on our Facebook page and we can begin amassing the data!

Either way there are always things we can do to try and re-frame our outlook on racing if we find ourselves being brought down with nerves, or even if we just want to try and eek out a little bit more from our performances. It’s all about having the right perspective. When race time comes and it’s time to go, forget the doubts, the missed sessions and most importantly any external pressure sources like what you think your friends, colleagues or training partners expect and concentrate on your race. Remember the training you have done, the races you’ve completed before, times when it’s all gone right, the things you’ve enjoyed and the PB’s that have gone before. You’re on the start line because you want to be and because you wanted a challenge. Take all this positivity, channel it into your performance and see the performance you always wanted come out. You’ve nothing to lose!

Stay Positive.

Coach K.