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how pro athletes get in the zone

Getting ready for triathlon race day | Angela Naeth

As your goal race approaches, it seems obvious that you should embrace the whole “eye on the prize” mindset. But distractions are part of life, and even though you know you should be focused on getting your gear together and setting yourself up for success, sometimes the mind wanders. 

If you find yourself drifting into a post-lunch-break daydream about how great you’ll feel at the finish line, go with it! But if your brain feels possessed by thoughts of snoozing through your alarm and missing the start or bonking before the halfway point of the race, heed this advice from professional triathlete Angela Naeth, whose mental game is right on par with her physical prowess, to stay in the zone.

Any advice I’ve ever received during my years of racing always came down to the following: have a plan, be flexible, take care of what you can control, and stay positive.

No race ever goes as planned. You might get a flat tire, you might miss the swim pack, you might get blisters – so you need to be mentally prepared for anything and be able to roll with it.

Have an execution plan with your nutrition, strategy, heart rate, and pace, but realize that not everything is controllable. Anything can happen during a race, which is a scary concept for some of us! Those who embrace the challenge are the ones who have great performances. Here are my best tips to help you get in the zone.

Have a plan

My coach and I go over a race plan before every race. We talk race dynamics, we go over nutrition strategies, and we discuss the goals for the day.

We’re always focused on what we might be able to control, and we make sure to be flexible. No race will ever go as planned. Accepting this and embracing it will allow you to excel come race day. My plan has become very dialed in with the three most important variables: nutrition, fluids, and pacing.

Practice patience

In the past, I used to be frantic. I would come from the back of the pack in the swim and bust a move as fast as I could on the bike to get to the front. Now I stay patient and use my strength on the bike to get to T2 confidently so I can set myself up for a good run.

Control your thoughts

Your mind is a simple, yet powerful, tool. I find that my best races are those where I’m able to clear my mind of unhelpful thoughts and just execute.

I practice this in training. Using positive words and phrases that I repeat over and over helps me achieve this. “I am strong” is one I use often. I work at maintaining a positive headspace, no matter what happens.

Be gracious

Focus on being thankful for everyone who has helped you get to the start line. As athletes, we should all be grateful for our health and the opportunity to race.

When things get tough, I remind myself that no one is forcing me to do this. I’m very grateful for my body, support team, family, friends, sponsors, and competitors. Without any of them, I’d never have the chance to do this. Be grateful for what you get to do and share it!

Develop a race day ritual

Creating your own unique race day ritual that you practice before each race can be helpful come race day. It can keep you calm and focused on the task at hand.

I have a set plan from a week out of the race, which includes the items I pack, what I eat, and a general time schedule leading into the race. It’s consistent for every race, and provides me with a sense of calm. Then, I try to find that quiet place inside me as I race, where no thoughts are in my head and I can just do – and have fun!

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

angela naeth run
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Triathlon training | How to master the run

Here's how to nail the final leg of your tri race. Pro triathlete Angela Naeth shares her top tips on training for the triathlon run.

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