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Training - Mental Preparation

Mental preparation for an event like the Hawkesbury Classic goes together with your physical preparation, but does require some specific attention.  The following are some guidelines that many people find helpful in preparing for a big event.

1. General Mental Preparation 

Here are some things to think about it.  The answers to these questions will help you to complete the event.

  • Write down your motivation/reasons for doing the event:

    • Personal Challenge

    • Keep Fit

    • Raise funds for charity

  • Write down your goals for doing the event: It might be just to finish or you may have a specific time you’d like to achieve

  • Write down how well you are following your physical program and make a note of what you can do to improve.  Remember, if you follow the program you’ll feel more confident on the big day.

  • Make a list of positive things to say to yourself.  You can say lots of positive things to yourself.  For example, you can talk about:

    • Technique (positive statements about your stroke, upper body position)

    • Achievements (Positive statements about what your doing)

    • Talk yourself up (“I’m feeling good/strong/confident”)

    • Your Goals (positive statements about why your doing this, for whom, how important it is and how satisfied you’ll be at the end)

Be aware of when you start saying negative things to yourself like I’m tired, I’m sore, I can’t do this, I want to stop, I want my mum :) . Instead say some positive things from your list.Remember, positive self talk makes people feel better and helps motivation. Negative self talk makes people feel worse and can lead to a mental collapse.

2.Specific Preparation for the Event.  

A lot of the anxiety and apprehension about an event occurs when people haven’t done that event (or distance) before.  By preparing adequately you’ll better control that anxiety and increase your confidence.  Some suggestions for preparing for an event include:

  • Learn the course! Paddle parts of the river, so you know the distances and the views you’ll experience, you’ll know where the weeds/logs/moored boats are, you’ll learn where the eddies are (so nothing is new/stressful on the day).  

  • Practice your water systems/food systems equipment well before the big day. Being confident in your food supply and liquid supply is one less thing to worry about on race day.

  • Discuss your race plan with your landcrew well before race day. Plan out what you’ll need at the different stops (food/water supplies

  • Write a list of what you need to pack and do so several nights before the event, so you have everything you need and aren’t flustered on the night before race day.

  • Write a list of what you need to eat and do on the day, so you have a routine to follow

  • Plan to get to the Start in plenty of time for parking etc, toilet stops, and warm-up and stretch, and so on.  

3.  Prepare a Mental Plan for the Event
  • Write down your (realistic) goals for the event.

  • Work out the pace you will keep, when you’ll eat and drink (and how much), when you’ll stretch and how, and what you’ll say to yourself and when.  

  • Break the event into manageable chunks (rather than thinking about the entire distance in one hit).  Many paddlers think of the Classic in three separate parts. From Start to Cattai, then from Cattai to Wisemans and the final leg from Wisemans to Brooklyn. For example, at the start, plan to concentrate on a relaxed pace, your form, and the next check point.  Then, think about the next target, and only one target at a time.  

  • Mentally tick off each chunk that you complete, and pat yourself on the back for completing it.  Then start thinking about the next chunk.  Eventually, you’ll have completed all the chunks and would have completed your event!

4.  Surviving the “Wall”

A lot of people talk about hitting the “wall”, and they often mean a point in the event when they feel really sore and tired and their mind tells them to quit.  But, most endurance paddlers who are well prepared don’t hit a big wall.  Walls come in lots of different sizes and thicknesses.  And, hitting the wall is normal, because hitting the wall is our body’s signal that we’re tired (and, guess what, you should be a bit tired and sore, because you’re doing a big distance, so of course your body is tired).  If you prepare well physically and mentally, if you have a clear set of goals for the event and you stick with them, you’re unlikely to hit the big wall.  Here are some ideas for what to do when you hit the smaller wall:

  • Firstly, accept it.  There is no point saying you’re not sore when you are, or that you’re not tired when you are.  

  • Use it as a signal to take control.  For example, scan your body and mind to figure out what you need to do to continue through the wall (the wall will end!).  That might mean stretching while you paddle, having something to eat, drinking, talking to someone, using your list of positive self-talk.  That way, you’ve straight away taken control of the situation, created a plan, and you’re doing something to manage it.  If you ignore your signals they will come back and bite you, so deal with it.

  • Use that pain as a signal to coach yourself.  Go through your personal mantra, remind yourself why you’re doing this, and who you’re doing it for, remind yourself that you’re well prepared and feeling tired and sore is normal, and that you’ve been tired and sore before, but kept going. Remind yourself that you’ve trained hard and consistently, think about the pain you’ve experienced in training, and how you’ve got through that.  Give yourself a goal straight away to work on – for example, I’m going to make it another 500m and then loosen my shoulders and remind myself how awesome I am, I’m going to keep going to that next bend in the river, etc.  

Whatever you do, take control, and be confident.  Remember, you’re doing something awesome!


You’re all doing something amazing by challenging your expectations and by becoming athletes!  If you follow your program and prepare your mental space you will have every opportunity to not only complete the event, but have fun while doing so!  So, make sure you finish off your training by preparing your mental skills and start to practice the finer points of your preparation.  Really polish off your training.  And most importantly, make sure you enjoy your adventure.   I wish you all the very best and can’t wait to hear the stories.  

All the very best,

Nic Titov

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