Expanding a bit on Matt's points, I will hopefully provide you with some fuel for thought as you make your way through summer and fall training…
What gets you, and keeps you motivated? What keeps you hungry so that when you toe the start line, you are ready to give 110% no matter what happens? So that when a break forms in a mass start race, you hammer til you catch it; or when you break a pole and have to chase, that you do until you catch the field?
Solid training of course is key here- you cannot expect to perform well without it. But success goes well beyond training. Preparation of equipment, good waxing, and paying attention to all the details like fuel and proper clothing, are all huge contributors.
There is also something else, and when all else is equal, it is the most powerful tool you will have. Motivation. Hunger. Wanting it more than anything.
So, how do you fuel your motivation? As the saying goes, “different strokes for different folks”. . You need to find out what works best for you. Experimenting this summer and fall before you get into the race season, will enable you to dial in your mantra, favorite song or imaging technique that really lights your fire. If you are racing this summer, these events are the perfect time to practice.
Or you may even have an opportunity to use it during a workout. Like this past Thursday when we no sooner got out of the car and began our DP session when it started raining. This was no ordinary rain; it was torrential, can't see, in your face hard hitting rain. And then the hail came. It would have been awfully easy to get right back in the car and call it a day. But these kids didn't. Heck, we were already wet anyway! So the workout went on, the DP uphill intervals were done with tenacity and fire and when all was said and done, it was, quite possibly, the best workout we have had to date this summer.
Find what works best for you.
Some athletes get pretty fired up from music- Find a song that gets you so stoked you can't wait for the race to start. (Don't confuse this with nervous energy). This is not about outwardly expending energy before your race by jumping around, acting rowdy and loud..rather it is an inner strength that will be with you deeper than you even know, and can be called upon when you need it most.
Some athletes use imagery. This takes practice but it can be highly beneficial and will help raise your confidence as well. Sit or lie down in a quiet place and review in your mind the race course or series of events that you want to happen.
Go over it in very fine detail- try to hear the sounds, visualize the crowds, smell the outdoors and take yourself through the race. It can also be helpful to run through several different scenerio's each with a positive outcome. People who use this method comment that their race will unfold according to plan- and if it doesn't, they don't panic because they have been through the different possibilities in their mind beforehand.
Other athletes use their warm up time to dial in their race game. Some like to be alone and very focused, while others prefer company to keep themselves from thinking too much. It all comes down to personal preference.
During the REG camp our entire group got together the night before the skate time trial to hear what Matt Whitcomb had to say about lighting the fire in ones self. At his request, athletes were strewn about the conference room, eyes closed, waiting to hear what he had in store for them. It was likely a bit different than what some were expecting. Through the wonders of the internet and You Tube, this captive audience was now listening to one of the greatest political speeches of all time- Martin Luther King's “I had a Dream”. This was followed by a coaches' speech to his football team, as they began their season together. Lastly, and possibly most inspirational to this group of athletes, was Al Pacino's famous talk to his team as they faced the most important game final half of their lives- from the movie “Any Given Sunday”…
I know Matt and the coaches in the room were unsure at first what the athletes were going to think of all of this – after all, politics? Football?, These are cross country skiers! But it was pretty clear when the lights came on, that this presentation had an impact, and a big one.
I know I was pretty fired up and I wasn't even racing! Karmen Whitham told Matt the next day that she credited Pacino's speech with her winning performance in the time trial. She was hungry. And she fought for every inch.
And that is what it's all about.
So start now, experiment with what gets you motivated and come out fighting when the snow flies.