360 YOU: Keeping Your Mind in the Race
You are in control.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
My race plan before used to be this: run as hard as I could out the gate, and then slowly fall off the pace cliff and struggle in. Once things started to feel hard, I just succumbed to the discomfort and wallowed in it. There were no attempts to resuscitate pace, there was no attempt to mentally stay tough. I allowed myself to be totally present in my discomfort and wishing I was anywhere but out there running and struggling.
Let me tell you: That’s not the race plan for success.
My running completely changed when I became an active mental participator during my runs. Instead of allowing myself to wallow in self-pity and discomfort, I had to wake myself back up and put myself in the driver’s seat for my runs.
Our minds can be our greatest ally for our runs. Or they can be our greatest saboteur. But it takes realizing this to finally do something.
RELATED: How to Train Your Brain Like You Do Your Body
You are in control. You have control over your pace, your body, your race. But so many times we feel like we don’t. We feel like we are at the mercy of the weather, or the course, or how our body is telling us it is feeling. Those are all factors, but you’re still in control. You’re in control of your body, your mind, and your attitude. That is a very empowering way to think and really believing and acting on that can totally transform your running.
Your mental game can take advantage of and maximize your best days—and it can help you to stay steady and to salvage those tough days.
Every run is made better by strong mental game and focus. During easy runs, you’ll be running with better form, more purpose, and greater positivity. During workouts you’ll practice the mental strength needed to tough out those hard sections and learn to push through discomfort and fatigue so you can run to your potential.
Another thing I’ve learned is to not let things throw you before a race or workout. It’s too easy to let running late, tough weather, something going wrong like missing a gel or an aid station be reason to have a total meltdown and mentally give up. Don’t. You owe it to your training to take things in stride (literally and figuratively) and to pivot to make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. Be calm, work through whatever problem you find yourself in, and stay mentally tough and positive. All of your hard work deserves you keeping a cool, calm, and collected head on race day and working through and strategizing how to get the best results, no matter what the day throws at you.
Here’s my tips to stay active and present during racing:
- Make sure you’re well-fueled. Fueling is for the body and the mind. Fueling allows you to stay clear-headed and focused so that you can run the ship well.
- Deep into a race, I like to take caffeine—this is as much for my mental game as it is for physical. I find myself a lot more alert mentally after caffeine, which helps me to start “caring” again about pace and staying on track and pushing.
- Have a running and racing toolbox that you practice during easy runs, workouts, and long runs. You cannot do in a race what you do not practice in your easy runs. Develop the mental skills that will allow you to fully realize your potential. The stronger you are mentally, the more you’ll be able to fully utilize your fitness.
- Learn how to coach yourself. Instead of totally checking out when things get tough, act like your own coach. Tell yourself all of the things your coach would. Remind yourself to stay on pace, remind yourself to push or relax or to stay within the mile. Coach yourself on form. Tell yourself that you want it even though it’s hurting and you’re tired. Be your coach out there. Your coach (if you have one) can’t be with you the whole time you’re at a race. But your mind can. And if you have a strong mind, that’s a huge asset to coaching yourself throughout the race. This is also something that you can get better at.
- Be your own best cheerleader! I can’t be the only one that stands a little taller, that runs a little faster when I’m going through a cheer section of a race. You do that for you during workouts and races. Have your mantras, be kind and encouraging to yourself. And by all means, do not say one negative unkind word to tear yourself down while you’re out there running. I make from the start to the finish line a positive zone where I’m not allowed to say anything negative. If it’s not productive to my race, I don’t let myself go there.
It’s all up to you. You can either completely check out and struggle in. Or you can honor all of the hard work and effort you put in during training and let your mind be strong and run the ship.
Some book resources that helped me to seriously up my mental game:
- Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor
- The Champion’s Mind by James Afremow
- How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald
Start practicing your mental strength on your easy days and workouts. Let every run be an opportunity to be relentlessly positive and to practice mental strength. The more you practice it, the stronger you’ll be at it. So that when it really counts and you need all of that mental strength to hold pace when you’re so tired and in pain on race day, that mental game will be strong and carry you through those tough sections!