Sunday, March 11, 2007

This is great!

By Matt Russ
The phrase “in the zone” is used a lot in sport, but what does it mean? My take is that it is a heightened sense of awareness in which the athlete is focused, performing optimally, and in tune with their body, both physically and mentally. In short, they are on top of their game. So how does one get into their zone during a triathlon?
There is only one optimal pace for each athlete; basically, the quickest means to get from point A to B. The first step is determining what that pace is. This is going to be predicated on your experience, knowledge of conditions, tactics, and most importantly, training. Do not expect to race substantially faster than you have been training, as your fitness level will determine your pace and speed. Your pacing system may be based on your heart rate, power on the bike, or speed and it will vary with course, race length, and event type. Once you have your pacing strategy figured out, the most important thing is to adhere to it. Situations may arise that may cause you to adapt your pacing strategy, but if you are chasing down every athlete who passes you, you are off your game and into theirs. An athlete who is in the zone controls their own race. "VERY TRUE, REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOUR OUT THERE RACING"
Every athlete is nervous, excited, or mildly anxious before a race. An athlete that is in the zone knows how to mitigate this anxiety and use it to their advantage. They take some time to visualize their success, how the race will unfold, and practice transitions in their head. They control and channel this energy and put it to productive use. They stay positive and remove all self doubt or conflict. :)
Once the starting gun goes off, the “zone” athlete is on autopilot to some extent. They react but do not overreact. They keep their emotions at bay and are in the moment. They remain focused even if things do not go as planned and are intrepid and unshakable. There are numerous examples of athletes who have crashed, or had a mechanical mishap and go on to win the event. These problems are out of an athletes control and must be treated as such.
During the race, the “zone” athlete follows a process. This means carefully monitoring heart rate, cadence, power, form, and nutrition to use the right amount of energy at the right time and not have anything left over at the finish line. Their economy does not fade as much as other athletes. I can often determine if my athlete stayed in the zone by their post race data. If it is very stochastic or faded on the run, I know they did not pace correctly, chased other athletes, or generally did not stay focused. The athlete in the zone moves quickly but methodically through transitions without fumbling. They do not “forget” to eat or drink, but fuel and hydrate precisely according to their plan.
Racing can be a very emotional experience, but emotions can work against you, or even defeat you. It is a skill to channel your emotions and mental energy into speed. And, like any other skill, it must be learned and practiced. Successful athletes are very adept at using mental skills such as visualization and positive self-talk to put themselves ahead of the pack. This starts by identifying mental limiters just as you would your physical limiters and then converting the negative into a positive. Set a reasonable expectation level and measurable goals. It is okay to dream big but your goals should be specific, performance-related, and attainable. Create a race mantra for yourself to play over and over in your head. Consider the personal reasons you race, what drives you, and what your reward will be; then go doggedly pursue them. Another characteristic of successful athletes is that they enjoy racing and have fun. This perhaps is the greatest reward of all.

"Make the plan, work the plan"

"Plan your race, race your plan"