April Zilg is no stranger to making the transition from the couch to competition. During her college years, Zilg was a junk food enthusiast and overweight. At age twenty, she decided to turn her life around and began exercising regularly, eating well and prioritizing her health. Nowadays, she is a top competitor in both SUP and outrigger canoe competitions. Making the decision to turn your life around can be scary and entering the race scene may feel even scarier. Not to worry, Zilg recently shared these helpful tips for making the big transition.
To help make achieving goals a habit, be sure to set three goals: gold, silver, and bronze. Each goal is something you would be proud of and is measurable.
Gold would be the most amazing outcome possible. Silver is very challenging, but you can do it if you give it everything you’ve got. Bronze is somewhat of a safety goal, a goal you know you’ll reach. This sets you up for success and getting in the habit of success will set you up for further success.
Identify Your Weakness
Is paddling upwind your nemesis? What about the surf zone? Long, slow, boring distances? Yoga and flexibility? Whatever it is that makes you say, ‘I’m not good at that,’ is what you should attack. Dedicate at least one training session each week to that ‘thing’ that you absolutely hate or aren’t good at—your weakness.
Attacking your weakness can serve many purposes. With dedicated, intentional practice on something we’re not good at (yet) we evolve into a better, more well-rounded human being. Breaking through mental barriers always feels good and shoring up a weakness often leads to more physical balance and improved fitness. If we successfully identify and work on a weakness, oftentimes it becomes one of our strengths.
Spend Time in Nature
Before a big race, people take time to ensure they have the right gear, the right nutrition and the right warm up. But I don’t know of many racers that take the necessary time to go for a calming nature walk. Having some quiet time for a warm up in the woods or in a natural setting can help boost your athletic performance.
Recent research, including some from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, has shown that walking in nature improves your health. The study also showed improved athletic performance for those that took a nature walk opposed to those who didn’t take the time to be in nature. Moreover, nature walkers had stimulated brain activity and improved circulation—two benefits that help you perform better.
Begin by simply standing in a natural space and become aware of your surroundings. Once you’ve become aware and present, you can begin walking (or lightly jogging). As you walk/jog/warm-up, shift your awareness inward and start to take note of your body, feelings, thoughts and emotions. Address any issues you may be having. Finally, take the time to visualize your race performance in a positive way.
Practice Beach Starts
If you’re entered in a race that includes a running beach start, it’s a good idea to use an interval training session as beach start practice. I personally like to use 30-second or one-minute intervals with a 3-4 minute full recovery in between. Draw a line in the sand like a race would have and start behind it. I like to get in a good, long run (this helps with getting used to maneuvering your board while running) that lasts from 5-10 seconds before I hit the water.
Once you superman out onto the water, your goal is to pop up as fast as possible and sprint for 5-10 seconds at 110%! Paddling an all-out sprint is hard enough, but after running it’s even harder. The lactic acid will get you soon, so if you’re doing a 30-second interval, hold out until your watch says you’re done, then paddle back to shore at an easy pace and rest the remainder of the time. If you go for a full minute, attempt a buoy turn at the 30-40 second mark and then try to catch bumps and sprint to the finish. Practice removing your leash, jumping off the board, and running up the beach.
If you’re prone to race day jitters, be sure to tell those butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation or fly away! Deep breathing and visualizing helps. Use your anxiety and adrenaline to get pumped up, don’t lose that energy, use that energy.
While breathing deeply, picture your heart rate coming down. Picture the butterflies flying in formation pulling you through the water off the start line. In your mind, see yourself sticking the start and putting it all out there, visualize when you settle into your pace, and then visualize a strong attack. But don’t visualize it not hurting—the more mentally prepared you are for it to be painful and difficult, the better your race will go.
The article was originally published on Standup Paddling
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