Anchor your Warm Up
I’ve been blessed to have some absolutely amazing coaches in my life. One of the common themes from the best of the best is to find a way to get into the zone on race day. Olympic swimming great Gary Hall Sr., who’s swim program The Race Club I was privileged to train with last month, calls it “anchoring.” I call it centering. It’s the arm swinging of Michael Phelps immediately before he gets on the starting block. It’s in the words that Serena Williams says aloud on court after a tough point and the scuffing of the ice by Columbus Blue Jackets “Goalie Bob” Sergei Bobrovsky before each period. The last thing we do to turn the switch to go time, THAT is our anchor and center.
These things do not happen by accident. This season I’ve written a lot about practice, I realize, but the longer I’m in the sport the more I understand that our bodies and minds crave routine. Have you ever noticed that when you go on vacation that, as lovely as the free time may be, your body feels a bit off? It comes right back around when we get home and back into the daily grind. Why? Routine and rhythm. The same is true for sports. Endurance sports are often said to be “races of attrition.” That is, who sticks it out and and can deal with all of the unexpected challenges during an event that come up and are out of our control. Although there is some truth in this, I argue that much more is under our control that we first believe. Weather, other runners, road conditions are all out of our control. But what about the long lines at the porta johns or the stressed out feeling while trying to find a parking spot? If we are honest with ourselves much of that stress is on us because we waited too long to arrive or didn’t plan well.
You play like you practice is a favorite quote of high school coaches. It may be cliche but is true all the same. They typically mean if you practice hard you play hard, but for us it’s more subtle. How much sleep we get the night before, our breakfast choices, how and with what we hydrate during our workouts are all part of our game. Even the surface on which you run and the time of day make a difference. I’m an evening runner, always have been because it helps me reset from the day. I look forward to it. However, the number of races I’ve run at night can be counted on one hand. So, when I truly care about the outcome of a race I become a morning runner at least once a week in training to simulate the conditions, the weather, my bathroom routine, and coaxing my body awake.
Playing like you practice is true for a warmup or a centering time as well. Ideally, you want to develop this for yourself over time. For some, it can be alone time right before the race to think through each stage of the event. Others need music blasting through their iPods to put them in race mode. My own warmup has evolved, but for the last 4 years thanks to my wonderful coach Jon Hastings, I do the same exact thing for every race. (Ok little white lie, I skip it for marathons and full Ironmans but everything else …). It does not matter if it is a 5k, a sprint triathlon, a half marathon, or half Ironman the warmup is the same. 12-20 mins of easy light jogging, 6-10 accelerations, light jogging to the porta potty, and change into my race gear. If it’s a tri, I get in the water for a few 50 meter pulls. That’s it. No thinking, no worrying, just doing and only for races. Coach says, and nothing could be more true, that it reminds the body that it’s time to race. It works. No matter how nervous or concerned I am going into a race, after that warmup I’m ready. Every time. All the systems are awake and ready and the body knows what to do.
Find your own center. Develop the warmup that works for you. If it is your first half marathon, there’s no need to go run two miles beforehand. But how about a 5 min walk to clear your head and get yourself into race mode? By planning for your warmup, whatever it may be you have the added benefit of getting to the venue a bit earlier which relieves most of race morning stress! Oh and that anchor, I’m not telling. But once I do it it’s time to race!