You’ve put in the training miles. You kept up with the cross training and core work. And you have made it to race with injury free. What else can you do to help make sure you are ready to run a successful race? How about working on your mental strategy. It’s just as important to mentally prepare for a race as it is to do all the other little things.
I will never forget the race where my mental game brought me down. It was the Baltimore Marathon in 2013. I don’t even think I realized at the time how much this played a part in the downfall of the race. It was also a humid day and I went out way too fast. The course evaluation looks like this:
It’s kind of hard to tell from the elevation chart, but it starts out with a few miles of uphill, then there is a significant downhill until the halfway point when you start an uphill climb. Around mile 15 the race intersects with the half-marathon, which I had done before, so I knew what was coming. As soon as I realized how much I was struggling after just half of the race, I gave up on myself. I wasn’t mentally prepared for challenging conditions and did not know how to work through them.
Here are some strategies that I have used sine then to help me to prepare for how I will handle it if a race gets challenging:
Before the race spend some time picturing yourself running the race. Imagine yourself at different points in the course. Think about powering through the uphills, being cheered on by the crowds, and crossing the finish line with a smile on your face. Also think about the struggles you may endure and how you will overcome them.
2. Positive Self-Talk
This is a strategy you can practice before the race (in any area of your life) and the use on race day. I wrote a post a few years ago about “BLUE” thoughts. The idea is that you learn to recognize some of the unhelpful thoughts and then replace them with a true thought. I like to say to myself “what would I tell a friend who was having this negative thought?” Often times it’s easier to help someone else to stay positive than it is for us to do it for ourselves. I gave some more details in examples in that post so if you are interested you should check it out!
Relaxation is a strategy that can be used in many areas of our lives but there isn’t one strategy that will work for everyone. When I get stressed out I notice the physical symptoms in my body (and also my mind). While the above strategies more directly calm the mind, it’s all connected. So if you do something to relax your body, like deep breathing, yoga, going for a walk, etc. it should also help to relax your mind. The reverse is usually true as well.
I like to focus on my breathing as a way to relax. This is something that can be done in any situation, even during a race. Often times in yoga we hear “come back to your breath”. It’s comforting to know that no matter what you can always come back to your breath. Deep breathing can be helpful for relaxation if you’re in the right situation. (This won’t really work when you are racing). However, practicing these skills leading up to the race will help you to use the strategies you need during the race.
4. Remember other races
Take some time to reflect back on other races. What went well? What was a struggle for you? Think about times in the race when you struggled mentally. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently? You can even use the visualization technique to imagine yourself getting through that moment more successfully. Remind yourself of the feeling of accomplishment after putting it all out there in a race.
5. Choose a mantra
Having a mantra will give you something to say to yourself when the race gets challenging. Before the Philadelphia Marathon I chose “Run Strong”because it made me remember to focus on physical and mental strength (good form, smart pacing, and positive thinking). Once you have your mantra you can figure out a creative way to carry it with you on race day. I had a Momentum bracelet made, but you could even just write it on your hand.
Hopefully these strategies will help you to stay mentally strong and focused during the race. Remember that there are a million factors that can come into play on race day and many are out of our control. Focus on the things you can control, and try to let the other stuff go and enjoy the experience!
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How do you stay mentally strong during a race?
Do you practice any of these strategies before a big race?
Have you ever struggled mentally in a race which affected your performance?