Don't let your body image ruin your race

Race week is an exciting time.
It's a time to reflect on the hard work that allowed you to be physically prepared for race day.
Race week is also a time to bottle up energy to use for race day. We always tell our athletes to save their  best performance for race day and race week is no exception. Patience is a virtue.
Race week is extremely special because it signifies the end of a journey. There was once a time when you couldn't do the things that you can do now and that's because you had a timeline when you started training and you worked hard to get to where you are now. The deadline has come and you are ready. 
You are ready to perform with your healthy, fit and amazing body. 

There are many negative thoughts that can fill an athlete's head during training and race week magnifies those thoughts to the extreme. Every thought becomes bigger, scarier and more nerve-wracking. Some athletes do a great job of managing those thoughts whereas other athletes tend to experience a snowball of thoughts that builds up to cause an enormous amount of pressure. 

Whereas weather, cramping, digestive issues, mechanical/gear issues, pacing, the distance and the terrain all seem logical in terms of thinking "what will happen on race day", there are some things out of our control and there's no sense wasting energy on those issues. Ultimately we want to feel confident that we can manage anything that comes our way on race day thanks to months of preparation and practice. 

As the brain begins to flood with a river of emotions, many athletes struggle with a negative body image on race week. If this applies to you, it's important to accept why your body image will cross your mind on race day as it can stem from a variety of reasons. Although you may not say certain thoughts out loud, there is a chance that negative body image thoughts have come across your mind during the extremely emotional time on the 1-5 days before your race and the actions that follow these thoughts may not be advantageous for your race day performance. 

Although you should certainly keep your thoughts as positive as possible on race week, this is not easy for every athlete and that is ok. The ultimate goal is to make sure that you do not let your body image ruin your race day performance as I have seen many athletes adjust their race week methods (like training/eating) because of not feeling good in their own skin (despite what lies under the skin being healthy, fit and prepared for race day).
 Just like you wouldn't try to get in one last long workout on race week to boost fitness, it wouldn't be practical or healthy to manipulate the diet in order to change body composition on race week. But even if that mentality doesn't apply, wasting a lot of your race day energy on how you perceive you look (especially compared to others) is not beneficial to your race day performance and can potentially affect how you fuel and taper your body on race week (and perhaps even on race day). 

It's important that you always have integrity for your body. As an athlete, you have a very unique and special connection with your body. This relationship is something that only you, the athlete, can experience as it is your body that you are training. Although all athletes want to improve fitness in order to perform well on race day, we must not constantly put this tremendous amount of pressure that  weight or body composition is the main booster or limiter to performance gains. Although the topic of changing body composition through exercise/training deserves it's own blog post, the most common denominator with body composition in peak season training and on race day is that nothing done should be extreme but instead everything is done with performance and health in mind. 

For many athletes, comparing your body to other, lowers self-esteem. If you doubt your body, you doubt your performance and all that training was a waste of time, money and energy.
And this is not just limited to female athletes. 

How is it that you can have awesome workouts by yourself but when you look at someone else, you feel as if you aren't ready or you aren't good enough? By thinking that the athlete's body who is being compared to your own body, is faster, fitter and more powerful, this causes irrational doubts and fears. There is no rule that body image/composition determines your finishing time. So instead of thinking that the more defined the athlete is the better athlete, tell yourself that at the end of the day, it's the athlete who trained the smartest and slowed down the least on race day, and he/she is the most successful athlete.
As far as I know, you don't get a finishing medal based on how many abs you can see on your stomach or the size of your thighs.  
What can you do with your amazing body?
Athletes who compete at a high level of their sport often feel pressure to look a way as there is this ongoing feeling that others are watching. Oddly, this pressure may be felt from the standards that society places on the ideal "look" of a male/female body. So then, athletes feel this pressure to "look" like an athlete. But when it comes to looking like an athlete, I would hope that most professional, experienced coaches are not placing this pressure on athletes to look a certain way but instead, to perform optimally on race day.  If anything, I hope that it is the coach who is offering nutrition advice is trying to keep the athlete from not adhering to the dietary "rules" and body standards that are often spoken to the masses but instead, ensuring that the athlete stays healthy in order to train consistently and to perform optimally on race day. 

Race week is a critical time for athletes who struggle with body image. When it comes to your body, the only thing you can change on race week is how you think about your body. If you are healthy and physically ready for your upcoming race (and your training reflects that), your physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with how your race will go. Believe me when I say that it is just not healthy to underfuel on race day and to obsess about your body composition. This approach gets you no where positive.

Love your body as it has gotten you to this amazing place called race week and in a matter of days, you get to perform with your amazing body. 

Race week is the time to love, thank and appreciate your body for what it has allowed you to do over the past 3,6,9,12 months.
You have prepared the best possible for your race and before you know it, you get to experience racing in your event, with your current level of fitness, with your one and only, awesome body. 

Have a great race and don't forget to thank your body!