Racing Strategies for Runners: Mental

by Louise | February 27th, 2013 | Fitness Expert

runOne of my favorite statements about running is that you get out of it what you put into it. This truism is usually thought of as referring to mileage and physical effort; if you don’t do the work, you won’t get better. This much is absolutely correct. However, the original statement applies not only physically, but mentally. If you haven’t put any significant thought into your races as of this point, you probably have significant potential for improvement of your time, all without adding to your physical workout regime. (I’m talking about one to two minutes off a 20 minute 5k, perhaps even three or four off of a 30 minute 5k.)

Preparation. It all starts before race day. You should know about the course you are running on: Where’s the halfway point? Where’s the finish? How many hills are there? A little research ahead of time will help you anticipate the tough spots in a race and power through when you get there. It may also help to know who you’re running against and the typical finishing times for the race. If you go out with the leaders, will that be too fast? (Most likely, yes). Think about how you will react to being passed in a race; let that empower you rather than bring you down.

Reaction. The race has started. If all is going well, few thoughts should be passing through your head, as you are too busy racing. However, only elite athletes can (on a good day) keep negative thoughts and doubts from creeping in. Hopefully, your mental preparation will have paid off. Keep a mantra ready for your body’s complaints. Fight your negative thoughts and instincts. “My calves are burning.” No, today is a good day. I feel great. “I think I feel a blister forming.” No, today is a good day. I feel great. (With that said, please use your better judgment to identify when pushing forward would do more harm than good).

Review. After you’ve cleared your head of some of the more drastic thoughts you may have at the end of the race (e.g. “I’m never running another 10k”), it’s time to start thinking about what happened, and how you can make it better. If the information is there, check out your splits; how did the pace correspond with how you felt? Where do you think you wasted energy? Think back to when you knew with absolute certainty that you were going to make it to the end and could say “full speed ahead.” Could this have happened sooner?

There is always room for improvement; it is surprising how much of that improvement can stem purely from an improved mental state.

Editor’s Note – Louise is a three season athlete for varsity sports teams at Div. III MIT. She runs cross country, and she is also a mid-distance runner during indoor and outdoor track. She currently holds the school record as an individual in the Mile, and shares the title for the 4x800m relay and Distance Medley Relay. A junior this year, she earned All-America status (Top 8) at Indoor Nationals in both prior seasons, and has high expectations for the upcoming indoor and outdoor seasons.


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