I've already touched on the 'Quiet The Mind' technique in my last post, and I'll probably write a fuller one on that in due course, but for now it's 'Own the Mat'.
I got pretty excited when I read about this in George Leonard's The Way of Aikido. I'm a big fan of Leonard and his book Mastery is required reading for anyone interesting in getting good at anything. Mastery is an easier read and you probably want to try that one first - if you like what it has to say, then check out The Way of Aikido.
The concept is really simple, but powerful. Leonard was due to take his black belt exam, but was nervous about the randori section. Randori is where multiple combatants, typically 3, attack in a free form manner and the trainee needs to be able to handle all the attacks effectively. Here is an example of Steven Seagal performing randori with 4 attackers - he may have done some trashy movies but he sure knows his martial arts. The randori starts at about 2:20.
So Leonard was having some problems, and his coach makes a suggestion:
Why don't you try this? When you step on the mat, say to yourself, 'This is my mat'. Be expansive, be generous. Look around at the other people on the mat. Be glad they're here. Welcome them. Welcome them to your mat. ...
Are you willing to take responsibility for this mat, to own it? That doesn't mean it isn't everybody else's mat, too. If you're big enough to own the mat as yours, you're big enough to let it be theirs too.
Leonard practiced this technique, and suffice to say he ace'd his exam. As Leonard points out, this can be applied to many walks of life, whether it be aikido, business, athletics or whatever.
Leonard expands on this:
Say you're playing in a tournament at your tennis club and there's a gate that leads to the court. As you step through that gate, say to yourself, "This is my court". Pause for a moment aftering entering and let your eyes sweep over the entire area. As you do so, take ownership of everything involved in the game. Consider yourself not a mere actor in the drama that is about to unfold, but author, director, and producer as well. Take full responsibility for the court condition, the wind, the light. Since you own this place, you can be a gracious host, welcoming everyone present - the spectators, the officials, the ball retrievers - with a friendly word, a smile, or a pleasant glance. This is all done in a relaxed, powerful, and centred manner.
Be especially welcoming to your opponent. He or she is your guest, someone who has come to help you play the game. The better the opponent, the better your game. If by some chance this opponent tries to intimidate you, don't intimidate back. There's no need to, for only the one who is willing to be intimidated can be intimidated, and you're in an entirely different position. Your opponent, no matter what his or her demeanour, is a welcome guest who is there to help you play a better game, and thus is always to be treated in a gracious manner ... At the end, the measure of the experience has less to do with winning or losing than with the quality of the game.
But don't be surprised if you win.
So I decided to try this at IMUK. I got the opportunity to check out the course a couple of weeks before the race and so jumped on it - this is an important step - if you get a chance to scope your venue well in advance then all the better. If not, ensure you have the time when you get there to do this. As you go to the key locations, T1, T2, start, finish, even the building where the pasta party/awards ceremony are to be held, take a moment to own each of the locations. Realise that this is your race, your town and be grateful for all the organisers and volunteers who are making your race possible.
Check out the bike course, your bike course. You're not intimidated by it, because after all it is your course and you're going to do well on it. Pretend like this is the town where you live and this is the route you cycle every weekend - you are fond of its twists and turns and various idiosyncrasies. Similarly with the run course and the swim venue.
Scoping the course out in advance means you can replay doing this in your mind before you get to the race location. Even if you haven't been able to do this you will need to rack your stuff and can therefore experience transition before race day and do your scoping then. Try to do a practise swim at the swim venue before race day and scope out the start and your start strategy.
On the day of the race in T1, look around you and own the transition. This is your race, once again be grateful for everyone who is here and who has made this race possible, organisers, volunteers, supporters, competitors. Be grateful that they have come here to be a part of your day.
I tried this in Bolton, and actually instead of thinking this is a tough course in the distant north of the country, I thought I was born not far from here in Ripon, my dad is from Oldham, I have close friends whose family live here - in actuality this is like a second home to me. That helped me believe it was my race and I was comfortable there - not in some foreign, unknown place. I really think that mind shift is useful for getting the right attitude come race day.
Looking to the future and my pending race in Utah next year, I have a head start. I've done the course, I know the town, I know the venues, I can visualize them all, and thus it is pretty easy for me to own that course. The big challenge is the marathon, and I know that very well. I know how to train for it and what it will feel like. I'm not intimidated by it, because it's my marathon course and so I'm looking forward to it. In fact I even chuckle to myself for the poor souls who will be doing that course for the first time next year - they won't know what's hit them.