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A couple of weekends ago, I raced a half marathon in terrible conditions. Chilly temperatures, pouring rain and 20+mph winds welcomed us at the start line. I heard a lot of people around me adjust their race plans because, well, the weather was AWFUL. I thought about doing the same, but I’d trained all winter long for the race and did not want to find another one to hit my goal. I decided that a number of people were going to run a great race and reach the goal I’d set for myself (sub-2), so why not me? Simply asking myself that question at the beginning of the race really set myself up for a good experience, despite the dismal conditions.
For a long time, I struggled with the mental aspect of running—in addition to struggling with the physical aspect. I would talk myself out of the hard work. Finally I decided to figure out how to maintain mental toughness in a race. Here are a few things I did:
Train hard. There is nothing more confidence building then putting in hard work during training. During every hard workout, I asked myself what I wanted my story to be on race day. This helped me feel confident, even though the weather was absolute junk.
Speak positively (literally). I literally said, “Why not me?” before the race started and it helped to get my head in the right space. I got used to saying positive things to myself during training runs and during the race, every word I spoke about the outcome was positive.
Accept that it was hard for everyone. Once during a really challenging trail marathon, as I was still heading out to the turnaround point, I passed one of the lead runners heading back to the finish (or more accurately, he passed me). As we ran past each other, he looked at me and said, “It’s hard for everyone.” That stuck with me because it’s true. Everyone faces the same conditions, the same course and the same weather. Remembering and accepting this fact can help you push past bad weather or a tough course and just focus on your goal.
Sometimes none of the above strategies will work and it’s just a bad day. And that’s okay. But working on your mental stamina can really improve your race experience and I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.