As an athlete, perhaps the only thing harder than being injured is not being able to race and compete. For many, that is the goal or purpose of all those early morning workouts or pushing through a hard session when you aren’t feeling your best. It’s not necessarily about about winning or losing but challenging ourselves to get better, faster, stronger and achieve our invidiual goals.
Can we do that in this current pandemic world? Sure, but virtual racing presents a new and different set of challenges from the typical in-person experience. I’ve found some competitive release in racing the bike on Zwift and doing some virtual running events. Here are my tips to nail your next virtual race.
Mental preparation is of course important in any race but it is exponentially more important in virtual races. When you strip away the race day context, the perception of your effort changes. Basically, it feels harder. There are no other external cues or competitors to distract your mind or provide additional context or motivation. The focus falls inward and soley on yourself. The metric might say the effort is the same but it’s going to feel harder.
How do you fight this?
You need to have a plan and better yet a personal motivation for doing the race. Reminding yourself of just why you will put up with the suffering is the best way to push past the siren song of wanting to shut it down and quit when it gets hard. Even if the event is missing all the trappings of race day, remind yourself that it’s a race, that it’s supposed to hurt, that it’s what you expected.
Ditch the Watch
Be leery of your watch. If you get sucked into focusing on your pace or other metrics, you are more likely to start judging yourself negatively if things aren’t going to plan. It’s far better to focus on level of effort and go hard rather than checking splits and trying to go fast. Going hard almost always beats going fast.
This is easier said than done. The ability to maintain, or increase, pace is largely based on how we evaluate effort. Managing this perception is much tougher when racing alone. This is where the mind games are intertwined with effort. You’re going to need push that perceived effort and maintain it with mantras, positive self talk and being invested in the race.
Just because the event lacks all the trappings of an in-person event doesn’t mean it can’t provide a great opportunity to test yourself and your fitness. And by focusing less on splits or the podium, it may lead to a more enjoyable training block and satisfying performance.