Last week I offered a few practical race-day tips based on my own personal experience. While it wasn’t an exhaustive list of tips and treasures, they were ideas that I wished someone had shared with me before my first race experience.
But as most runners know, running isn’t just physical, it’s also mental. Of course, if it were all mental, we could all think our way to the finish line and wouldn’t that be nice. No, running is a combination of physical training and mental strategy. With that in mind, I offer a few tips to deal with the mental side of race day or any hard workout.
Training isn’t just about training your legs for physical activity. It’s about teaching your mind to deal with the ups and downs of running. Don’t wait to employ mental tricks until the big day. Use the long runs to mentally prepare yourself for the distance you plan to cover. Simple preparation is the best way to combat nerves and doubt.
2. Accept the pain
Running will hurt. Running will get ugly. Running will humble the most arrogant among us. Understand that fact, accept it, and move on. Most people quit running because it just got too hard. The moment it gets intense and uncomfortable, they decide they’re not made to run. Make no mistake, running is painful for both elites and the everyday runner. Successful runners embrace the hurt. It’s part of the experience. It’s your body’s way of letting you know that you’re pushing your physical limits. It’s not a bad thing.
Look, what’s more uncomfortable? Packing around 80 extra pounds of weight everywhere you go or feeling the exhilarating burn in the lungs and legs after a hard five-mile training run? I think you know my answer.
3. Divide and conquer
I made the gigantic mistake before my first marathon of driving the distance in the car the night before. Now, I know a lot of athletes who drive the course before a race to get a sense of the terrain. But for me, driving 26.2 miles just emphasized that what I was about to do was simply ridiculous! Even now, before a race, if I contemplate just how far I have to go before I can collapse with my celebratory bagel and banana, my mind goes to dark places. So my solution is just not to think about it.
Break it up. My first goal is to get to mile eight. I run eight miles all the time. No biggie. After that, I set my sights on the halfway mark. From then on, I focus on getting my body to the aid stations which are typically two miles apart. Once I reach Mile 20, it’s one mile at a time. There comes a point around Mile 23 when I stop looking at mileage all together and focus on time. Telling myself it will be over in 15 minutes sounds much nicer than thinking I still have two miles to go. And if you must, take it one step at a time.
4. Visualize your finish or visualize yourself getting over the tough parts of the course
Study the elevation charts and maps so you know what you’re getting into and then see yourself conquering every hill, every twist and every turn. Imagine your family and friends peering over the barricades at the finish line to cheer you in. Imagine the elation you will feel as you cross the finish mat. Everything comes to an end, even marathons. So picture your finish because you will get there. Then do it.
Of course, there’s always the controversial iPod. Again, I don’t want to get into the rights or wrongs of such devices, but for some, a little motivational music or entertaining pod cast can make the difference between finishing with a smile or a grimace.
5. Chase the carrot
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