What is this thing so many athletes do as they prepare for a race? We have all heard the saying that sport is more mental than physical.
Imagine you are in a pure white room, it is silent, and there is nothing in the room except for you, four snow white walls and an apple on the one wall. Now focus all your energy on that apple, your entire consciousness is thinking of that apple, and as you do that you will get a taste of what we do before a race.
I trained for 4 hours a day, doing up to as much as 21,000 yards in one day. I also lifted weights 4 times a week for an hour and then did some cross training in the form of running, biking or roller-blading at least 2 times a week. All this to swim a race for 22 seconds or less. Crazy, yes!
I have a strong belief that it is not my body that needs to go through all this training to swim at the speed that I do, but my mind. When I get on the blocks in the final of a race, I will know that I have done everything in my power to prepare for this race, and that the competition will never be as prepared for this one race as I am. I feel confident that I will win. It becomes a race of me against myself and I forget about the people in the lanes next to me.
I cannot control what they do, but I can control what I do, and so all my energy is focused on the 50 meters of wetness that I have to cover to achieve my goal.
When we march out for a race, my mind is going through a mental check, like airline pilots do prior to takeoff. Making sure that I know exactly how I want to swim the race and how I want the water to feel on my hands and rushing past every part of my body as I make my way down the length of the pool. I even make sure that my goggles are on right and that my suit is tied, so that when I get behind the starting block, my mind becomes extremely peaceful, knowing that this Boeing is ready for a once in a lifetime flight!
Once I am behind the block, all the hard training and dedication make me feel so at peace within myself, knowing that I did everything right, and that now it is all in God's hands. I believe that to succeed you need to have this inner peace, without it your muscles would become too tight before a race.
I am not saying that there must be no nerves no, those butterflies in your stomach keep your adrenalin pumping and your mind on edge, but your body should not be tense, EVERYTHING has been done, so why should you be nervous?
I get onto the blocks, the gun goes off and from that point on my body and mind go into autopilot. I have found myself thinking of all kinds of things during my races, even though every now and then I do a spot check, to make sure that everything is still running the way I want it to.
I touch the wall, look up at the clock. Gold medal or not, I KNOW I prepared for that race and so I am pleased, yet never satisfied. Always striving for faster, stronger, higher, better. I will go home and prepare again, to race the clock and myself another day!