How to Train and Race with Confidence

Training and racing

Feb 15

Think back to the last time you felt confident. Truly confident. Down deep in your bones. No doubts, hesitation or self-sabotaging words. Just quiet confidence.

If you’re new to endurance sports or outdoor adventures, you might not believe this — but it is possible to feel confident when you line up on the start line.

Don’t get me wrong - you’ll still be nervous. The butterflies-in-your-stomach will always be there when you’re doing something that makes you uncomfortable, about to do something for the first time or do something that’s important to you.

But you can start your next race with quiet confidence.

Confidence is one of the most important, but underestimated, elements to sport (or life really).

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So often we focus on the physical demands of the event. How far and fast do you need to go? What is the cut-off?

The forgotten piece of the puzzle

But this is a jigsaw puzzle with 2 separate, and equally important, pieces; the training / fitness AND the right mindset. You need both.

Yes, you need to do the training because confidence alone won’t get you very far.

But all that training and fitness won’t help if your confidence, or a lack of it, means you don’t swim, ride or run to your potential.

It won’t matter how much pool swimming you’ve done. If you’re constantly telling yourself you’ll have a panic attack in the swim leg, you’re setting yourself up to freak out the moment you take in a mouthful of water instead of air.

You need both the training and the right mindset not only to achieve your goal but to feel calm, confident, happy and relaxed on race day.

I spoke on the topic of how women new to triathlons can train and race with confidence at the Australian Triathlon Endurance and Cycling Expo last year. In that talk, I shared 3 tools you can use to overcome your fears and pre-race nerves so you feel calm, relaxed, confident and have an enjoyable, rather than stressed, race day experience.

A number of people asked if that talk was recorded (it wasn’t!) so I’ve outlined the tools in this post. It is l-o-n-g (#sorrynotsorry). And while it’s heavily focused on triathlons, these tools have been tried and tested by me personally since 2004 and by my clients since 2010 in triathlons, ocean swims, trail ultra marathons, fun runs, hiking and even mountaineering expeditions. They work if you use them!

I've created a (free) cheat sheet to help you implement these tips immediately so you can feel relaxed, calm and confident at your next race. Click here and I'll send it straight to your inbox

Tool #1 - Rewrite your "stories"

Your single biggest roadblock is not your physical ability / fitness but your mind and the stories you tell yourself.

They’ll dictate your experiences, what you give yourself permission to try, what you succeed at and the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Think about a time when a friend or colleague told you about something they were going to try. It could be an event like Tough Mudder, a triathlon or the City to Surf. Or maybe it was salsa dancing, scuba diving, learning Italian or to play the guitar.

And you immediately thought to yourself - “OMG I’d love to do that one day!”. And almost immediately afterwards, you heard a voice in your head: “don’t be ridiculous, you could never do that”.

That second voice is a story. It’s the part of you that holds back, that protects you from “danger” (both real and imagined). Sure, there might be legitimate reasons why you can’t do it (e.g., $$). But if you’re honest with yourself, more often than not, it’s actually based on a story you’ve told yourself about what you can - or more likely - can’t do.

And what happens when you repeat something to yourself over and over again? You begin to believe it. We assume these stories are fact and don’t question them. And of course our “stories” always focus on outcomes you don’t want to happen (your fears) rather than on what you want (your dreams)

Fears are stories you tell yourself

This applies to all the stories you tell yourself:

I’m fat.

I’m slow.

I’m dumb.

I’m such a fake.

I’m scared of open water swimming.

I hate the weeds in the lake.

I’m going to freak out!

I’m never going to be any good at running.

I don’t want to crash my bike

I’m not built to be a runner.

I’m scared of riding near cars

I’m just a jogger.

I’m only…

I’m not very good at…

I’m just…

I’m not…

Given that we believe these stories are true, it’s no wonder they become self-fulfilling prophecies!

If you’re constantly telling yourself…

…. you’re going to freak out in the water, you probably will.

….you’re never going to be good at running, you won’t.

So how do we fix these stories?

It’s simple. We re-write them.

Step 1: Recognise your fear-based, self-sabotaging stories

Here’s a tip - they often hid near words like “can’t, “should”, “shouldn’t” and “but…”

Step 2: Reframe, re-write or flip it

Turn it around and make it more positive and less fear-driven. It’s a personal process but take a step back and look at it objectively.

It could be simply changing “I’m not a very good swimmer” to “I’m not a very good swimmer yet”. A simple but powerful change of perspective.

My stepdaughter has a brilliant way to reframe her fear of seaweed in an ocean swim. She tells herself the weeds are her friends and they are there to remind her she’s not alone. That’s perfect! Because when she sees any seaweed, she feels reassured rather than lonely and panicked.

Step 3: Reward yourself

Think about how you train a puppy. When you say “sit” and your puppy sits for the first time without you having to nudge it’s bum to the ground, you pat it and reward it with food. It reinforces the good behaviour.

This step plays the same role; it reinforces your positive behaviour change (aka your new story). Don’t worry - it doesn’t have to be much. Just say something along the lines of “good one”, “nice work” or “well done” to yourself.

This step is critical and the one most people skip because giving ourselves praise is not something women do very well. But it’s critical if you’re to replace your old fear-based, self-sabotaging thoughts with constructive, positive and open-minded new ones.

Tool #2 - Visualisation

A powerful tool used by most of the world’s greatest athletes, research shows visualisation creates changes in the brain by activating the creative powers of your subconscious mind. Use them to prepare for a “best case scenario” - a finish line or having a relaxed and confident swim — as well as the not-so-good ones like dealing with a flat tyre, drafting penalty or even injury.

Don’t forget to include sounds and smells too!

Here’s a visualisation if you’re nervous about the swim - picture yourself feeling nervous but excited before your race. Picture yourself staying relaxed in the water, swimming smoothly at your own pace. See yourself getting out of the water feeling GREAT! You get to the swim exit having had a fantastic, calm, relaxed and enjoyable swim. You hear your family calling your name and wave at them. You look down at your watch and are amazed and excited to see your best swim split ever!

Use visualisations to overcome your fears

Isn’t that much a more powerful - and less stressful - visualisation than picturing yourself having a panic attack (which is also a visualisation!)?

Another example is getting a flat tyre in a race which many women dread. Of course the first step is to learn how to change a tyre!. But make sure you picture yourself getting a flat tyre and see yourself calmly changing it (ok so maybe there’s an F-bomb or two. No judgement - I’d do the same!). Because you aren’t stressed, you change it quickly and without drama. You appreciate the chance to get off that damn saddle for a moment. You see yourself getting back on the bike and then getting back up to speed again, having wasted minimal time. That’s a very different experience to the stressed, panicked tyre change you’re probably picturing in your mind where you drop the CO2 canister, can’t get the lever under the tyre wall and break 3 fingernails in the process.

Tool #3 - Cr​eate a mantra or affirmation

Some people think mantras or affirmations are a bit “woowoo” but they are simply a circuit-breaker; a way to short-circuit your thoughts when you feel yourself sliding into doubt or fear.

They work in a similar way to our “re-writing our stories” tool and are perfect to use in the moment you need reassurance. A great example is “I can and I will” which is used by a number of women I’ve worked with. Mine is longer than that (a few sentences actually) but I’ve used it for years to deal with everything from tough physical challenges to personal situations. It gives me comfort, reassurance and reminds me I can deal with whatever challenge life, or racing, throws at me.

And just like your new stories, the more you repeat them - the more you believe them.

There are no “rules” around mantras. You need to find one that works for you. Try a few and see which resonates for you. Which one makes you feel stronger, more steadfast? Find one that connects and practice using it in training when you’re feeling tired or trying to push through the last 30 seconds of a challenging interval or hill. You’ll quickly notice how powerful they can be.

And remember this...

That’s a lot to process, I know! So I’ve included a working example in the download for this post. It shows you how to use the 3 tools to conquer the swim (the part of a triathlon that scares people more than any other!).

Finally, remember the goal is NOT to become fearless - it’s to use these ‘tools’ so you can tackle your fears and still keep moving towards your goal despite them.

A wise man once said (with a few liberties)

“Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.

The brave woman is not she who does not feel afraid but she who conquers that fear”

~ Nelson Mandela.

That is my wish for you! 🙂