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September 29, 2010

Mental Tips For Your Next Long Race

Written by Dena Evans

Your pasta dinner has been consumed; your D-chip is safely looped around your shoelace.  Your final cup of water is in your hand and you’re just waiting for the gun to go off.  What now?

 

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced athlete, taking a few key tips to the starting line can help you dig down and find your potential on race day.  Here are a good ones to consider:

 

1. Practice as many race day details beforehand as possible.

As Brett mentioned in this month’s Pro’s Perspective, it is important to stick with the tried and true details that have brought you successfully to this point.  Can you survive if an unexpected change of plans is required?  Sure.  However, knowing that there are several things you will do on race day that have been proven to work for you in the past can provide great peace of mind.

 

If you have a pre race or pre long run breakfast that has worked well, make plans to have the same on the big day, even if that means bringing along your own peanut butter, your favorite bar, your favorite drink.  Yes, the hotel buffet might look tempting, but if you haven’t eaten bacon before heading out the door for a hard run, today is not the day to try.

 

Resist the urge to wear that cute new thing you bought at the expo the day before.  Wear it later to impress your friends around the neighborhood instead, and go with the shorts and shirt that have worked for you on your long runs.  Consider the temperature ranges of your race day and have options for unseasonably cold or wet conditions already planned and packed for.

 

2.         Commit to running your race at your pace

Everyone has heard stories of those who start too fast and struggle at the end as a result, or seen races where the whole crowd appears to be sprinting from the start line of a long race.  Do the math on the time you want to run, and stay in the ballpark of those mile splits (and perhaps even a bit slower for the first few miles) during the explorative stages of the race.

 

It is extremely tough not to be caught up in the adrenaline of the crowd, the announcer trying to fire everyone up, the extra energy you have from being tapered and rested, and the older, less fit appearing person who seems to be running so fast and easily right by you.

 

However, resist you must.

 

You’ve come too far to let short-term emotional bursts drag you away from your long-term goal.  As they always say about everything else requiring patience that is not actually a marathon:  this is a marathon, not a sprint.  And the reason why they say it is because it is actually true when you are indeed engaged in a marathon and you need to be steady and independently motivated.  Nerves of steel.  You can do it.

 

3. Plan for a rough patch

There will be a time, if not in this race, but next, where you will go through a tough patch, get a cramp or a side stitch, or have an unexpected period where your ultimate completion may feel like it is in doubt.  Rest assured that is completely normal, and plan in advance to give yourself time to let it ease and sort itself out.  Think of it as an expected challenge you plan to meet, so when it occurs you can almost greet it with joy. Oh, only a side stitch, Ha!  I’ve got this.  I’m going to take some deep inhales until my muscles relax.  Man, I feel out of juice.  Perfect!  That’s what I was carrying this extra gel packet for.  Even if you haven’t brought the antidote, many times the race is long enough and your body resilient enough that what seems like a deal breaker has resolved over the next 3-5 miles.  Plan in advance to give yourself at least that long to let it ease.  Certainly anything that indicates serious injury or illness should be taken extremely seriously and acted upon with every caution. But if you recognize that crampy calf or that mid-long run “blah” feeling, be excited about how you are going to persevere past it and do.

 

4. Celebrate intermediate steps

Is it mile 10 and you are still on pace for your goal? Have you successfully made the first half of the race without feeling like quitting once?  Have you taken fluids and nutrition as planned through the first several miles?  Were you able to give a thumbs up to your spouse and kids along the course when they were waiting for you to pass late in the race?  Consider some of the ingredients to a successful race day and enjoy a moment of appreciation along the route when you execute these plans. A “good day” is comprised of a bunch of different things that have gone well.  You may not always be able to get through the race with a perfect score, but if you have several evaluative check boxes, you’ll have a more complete appreciation of how and why things ended up well in the end.

 

5. Visualize the finish

Before you start, imagine the weight of the finisher’s medal on your chest, the balloon arc or banner over your head, even the joy of triumphantly retrieving your baggage from the trucks and reuniting with your family.  These images, seared into your brain beforehand, can be powerful motivators when things get tough on the racecourse.  What will be most enjoyable to you about finishing?  Picture yourself doing that, and continue to keep picturing it until you cross the line and can enjoy it for real.

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