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September 27, 2014

Tips for Mental Toughness in Your First Goal Race

Written by Dena Evans

large-running-race-start-lineTraining hard for your big fall goal race is the most important things you can do to increase the odds of success on your big day.  Putting in the work may not mean that a challenge or two may yet await when you finally pin on your bib number.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing to greet the morning with a resilient mind.

 

Create quantitative and qualitative goals

Your primary goal may be to finish, or to hit a certain time, and that may be the guiding light in your training thus far.  However, consider all that you have learned or are learning about yourself along this journey. Having goals that take into consideration this gained knowledge and experience, as well as the memorable nature of the accomplishment can be important in case the primary goal appears far off or doubtful during a rough part of the race.  Intermediary time goals, goals to keep a certain attitude or pace through various distance markers, goals to consume certain amounts of fuel or fluid at certain times, even goals to promise to smile and enjoy the last few miles or to take a selfie at the finish line can occupy your brain and keep you on track to your ultimate quantitative goal.

 

Break down the race into smaller pieces

A half marathon or marathon can seem quite daunting when considering the full length.  If intimidated or feeling nervous, concentrate on one part of the race at a time.  Focus on making it through each 5K or 10K, to the top of the hill ahead, the tree around the bend, or even just to the next mile post.  Building a pile of small “wins” along the way can build a growing confidence that will form a crashing wave of certainty once the finish line is closer than the start.

 

Plan your focus for when a rough patch occurs

Rough patches are common for almost all marathoners and half marathoners.  These periods might mean a mile or a few where the progress seems much more hard fought than anticipated.  Oftentimes, these patches dissipate and a second wind of confidence follows. Experienced racers can look back and use previous experiences to remind them of the temporary nature of the difficult stretch, but first timers must also be armed with a quiver of motivation when the going seems unexpectedly difficult for a time.  Perhaps you had a personal motivation for starting your training, a charitable goal, a family member to which you’d like to pay tribute with a great effort, or other talismanic aspect that served as a catalyst for this entire endeavor.  Plan to remember your primary motivation and the reasons why you embarked from the starting line, and even remind yourself with a piece of clothing, or even a note written on your hand or arm.

 

Wear your heart on your sleeve (or better yet, your name on your chest)!

Spectators love to have something to yell besides “Yay!”  “Go!” and “Great job!”  Savvy racers looking for a bit of encouragement label themselves to give the crowd something to shout.  Even if they aren’t truly your personal cheering section, an enthusiastic spectator yelling for you individually can be an irresistible attraction to carry on.

 

Station your supporters at strategic points on the course

If you do have the luxury of a bit of a cheering section, consider where you will likely have a tougher time.  Certainly between miles 18 and 22, vocal support can help temporarily delay or distract you from the final challenge of a marathon’s last few miles.  Knowing where you will see family and friends can also provide the intermediate goals mentioned above, as well as the visual representation of the motivation you need to be strong and maximize the benefits of the training you have done all these weeks.  Some racers are fine as solo competitors, but oftentimes the trip to the starting line has taken a bit of a village of support.  Enjoying that village’s encouragement along the way can help make the far side of the finish line even that much sweeter.

 

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