OK – here it is… the final lesson. To wrap up this little series on lessons learned, one of the greatest lessons I learned during the journey to and through my adventure race was the fact that my mental skills training (MST) was key in helping me to have a great race day. Now – I know it seems like for someone whose career is dedicated to working with athletes on their mental skills training – this truth should be glaringly obvious! But to go through the race and know that I attribute my success that day to my mental skills training really brought that message home. I know that my physical training got me to the start line and that my mental skills training got me to the finish.
I work with so many athletes on how to handle their nerves before a game or a race, that I was actually surprised that I wasn’t feeling more nervous before my event. The most anxiety I had was on the car ride up to Tahoe when I thought that we might not make the cut off to check in the night before the race. I had decided that it was important for me to check in the night before versus the morning of so I would have one less thing to worry about on race day. As we were driving I became more and more anxious that we wouldn’t make it in time. I was consumed with anxiety about not getting there in time until I decided to figure out my Plan B; “OK Cheadle, what do you need to do if you can’t make it in time? What’s my Plan B?”. Once I finally decided to focus on what was in my control and figured out my Plan B, my anxiety “magically” disappeared and I was able to relax for the rest of the ride.
Here are some of the additional race day benefits I experienced due to my mental skills training:
Made quick adjustments: Creating my pre-performance plan entailed looking at what I wanted to be thinking, how I wanted to be feeling, and what I needed to be doing in the hours leading up to race day. For me, the most important thing I did was dial in the thinking and feeling. Doing that allowed me to relax and be confident about making adjustments when the “doing” part didn’t go exactly as planned. This confidence and resilience continued into the race as well.
Focused on my goals: I had several specific goals set out for the race. I was able to accept and focus on my goals which helped me to keep moving forward and not worry about anyone else’s race but my own.
Stayed in the moment: I was able to stay in the moment and take everything as it came. Every challenge I faced, from getting sick the night before to dealing with the pain in my legs on the final climb, I handled it. I was able to accept that whatever I came up against that day was part of my race, part of my “adventure.”
Felt success even in “failure”: My race was far from perfect. I don’t think any race ever is. It’s the struggle that makes it worth it. I didn’t achieve my time goal that day. My MST allowed me to focus on everything that went well and all of the goals I did accomplish so that I looked forward to the next race instead of feeling like I failed. I didn’t accomplish my time goal I set out for myself that day, but it did not affect my confidence, motivation, or focus moving forward.
The work I did ahead of time on my mental skills training allowed me to be resilient no matter what challenge I faced AND allowed me to enjoy my race even when I was faced with multiple challenges. MST doesn’t happen over night. It takes deliberate practice and then discipline to call on them and use them in the moment. Because my MST had such an impact on me that day – I know that the characteristics that we have come to think of as making athletes “mentally tough” can be learned and do have an impact in performance. The fact that I was able to have the experience I did while facing all of the challenges I faced helps me to solidify that the work I do with athletes is important and can help them to be successful. Races don’t always go perfect, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great race that day.