Everyone knows what a post-mortem is: examining a corpse to determine the cause of death. Gruesome, I know, but there is another kind of –mortem that can help you execute your races better. It’s the pre-mortem. It's a proactive, pre-emptive exercise to help you build confidence and race successfully. The pre-mortem examines potential causes of failure before your race so you can plan for and address them before they happen. And avoid having many happen at all.
You already do post-mortems on your races, even your really good ones. “Oh, I had trouble getting out of my wetsuit, and that cost me an extra minute in transition.” “I dropped a bottle at the second bike aid station, and that threw me off my nutrition and hydration plan.” “All those rolling hills on the bike, I couldn’t help myself and powered over them, and the second half of my run was a horror show.” Post-mortems are all those little bits of evaluation that we all do after our races. “Ack, I was 20 seconds back from my PR, and I can see I left those 20 seconds in transition when I ran out without my race belt and had to go back for it. Sheesh.”
But what if you did this analysis before your race, to identify how to execute your race better and where to find those precious minutes and seconds?
Here’s where the pre-mortem comes in, and here's how to conduct one.
Step 1. Take out your written race plan (you do create a written race plan before your race, don’t you?). Review the steps of your race.
Step 2. In your mind, transport yourself to beyond the finish line and answer this question: “What went wrong with my race today that cost me time?” Write down the list of things that come to mind.
Step 3. Identify actions you will take to avoid or address the items in your list from Step 2. You may avoid some of these things by, for example, getting to the race venue early. You may address some of these items by learning how to repair your flat tire quickly.
Step 4. Reinforcing a concept from Race Day Planning Part 1, in your mind run a full-color movie (in 30-45 seconds) of your race going perfectly, having addressed all the items in Step 2.
Step 5. Also from Part 1, in your mind run another full-color movie (in 30-45 seconds) of your race going perfectly, having avoided the items in Step 2, since they never occurred at all. Follow up with a five-second version of this perfect movie.
At some point we’ve all wished that we had done things differently during a race. You can avoid the regret and remorse by identifying before your race those things you will be sorry for after your race, making corrections and rehearsing your race in advance.
Will Murray is a USAT Level 1 coach with a specialty in mental skills, based in Boulder, CO. He is the mental skills coach for www.D3multisport.com and co-authored The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes with Craig Howie.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.