Race day will find most runners wracked with nerves. You’ve done the miles - prepared your body in every way you can. But when you’re standing at the start line, your most valuable asset is your mental state. Your ability to conquer overwhelm, claim any nerves and push those pain barriers when they arise will make all the difference between getting a PB or dropping out before the finish line.

WHY IS MENTAL PREPARATION IMPORTANT?

I truly believe that running is 50% physical and 50% mental. The good news is, whether you’re aware or not, you will have already done a great deal of mental preparation leading up to race day. Every painful speed session you’ve finished when you really wanted to give up and every time you had to get out of bed obscenely early for a long run, will have strengthened your mental endurance. There are ways, however, that you can enhance your mental strength even more by mentally preparing for the specifics of the race you have ahead of you.

WAYS TO GET MENTALLY PREPARED FOR RACE DAY

Consider what aspects could challenge you come race day. Is there going to be a hill at the end of the course? If so, try doing the last segment of your session uphill. Is it going to be uneven terrain? Get used to running on it. If your race is going to be somewhere where the weather is unpredictable, then prepare for all kinds of weather conditions by getting used to running when its really grim outside, or scorching hot.

Even with all the right physical and mental preparation, race day will always be a challenge. If it’s not, then you’re not really racing. You should try to eliminate any factors that might make it more difficult than it needs to be, though. Make sure you have the right clothing for the weather so that you feel as comfortable as possible whilst you’re running. Plan what you’re going to eat the morning of the race and the night before, charge your running watch, get your race day kit out ready - Leave no stone unturned in your preparation to allow you mind to relax and focus on the race.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PLAN

Having a race plan is another way you can mentally prepare yourself for race day, and it’s a great way to visualise how you want the race to go. Don’t just write a plan A, because if anything doesn’t go to plan then you may find yourself giving up. Be prepared with a plan B and even a plan C, just in case things don’t go your way.

Your 'Plan A' should revolve around the time you want to achieve in a best-case scenario - what pace you’d need to do for each split, whether or not you’re planning on walking up the hills, that sort of thing. 'Plan B' should be what you’d need to do to achieve a “back up” time. A time you’d be happy with if the conditions were less than perfect, even if it’s not a PB. And Plan C? Just focus on getting past that pain barrier and not allowing yourself to give up, using the race as a chance to focus on form whilst your body is fatigued and run the best result possible given the circumstances. If you have a really bad race, just cling onto the fact that it’s all miles in the legs and experience that you can learn from for future races, whilst finishing at a comfortable pace that you can sustain.

Every race has lessons to teach us, and it’s important to learn from each one in order to be able to improve. If a race went well (or terribly), then next time, apply the things that worked and ditch the things that didn’t! I like to keep a journal of all the things that work for me on race day, like having a herbal tea instead of a normal cup of tea in the morning of the race, because it settles my stomach and calms my mind! These details that you can only learn through trial and error are all things you can use to allow your mind to prepare for the race, knowing you’ve done everything you possibly can for it to run smoothly.

MY TOP 5 TIPS FOR MENTAL PREPARATION DURING RACE DAY

  1. The morning of the race right up until the race itself, try to zone out and listen to music that motivates you (Check out my Spotify playlist on my profile for my favourites!). You may not be able to listen to music during the race, but listening to it beforehand can do wonders for getting you in the right frame of mind.
  2. Find a moment whilst you’re getting ready to visualise how the race will go. This works even better if you’ve done the course before. Imagine yourself running over that finish line with the result that you wanted. Visualise yourself feeling great whilst running, keeping an amazing form, breathing steadily and hitting that runners high. Imagine yourself not giving in when it starts to get tough, and how you’re going to overcome that nasty hill. Visualisation has been proven in many studies (for example, this one) to be a powerful tool for athletes to perform better.
  3. After you’ve started the race, do your best to switch off. It’s so easy to get distracted by every discomfort whilst racing and pay too much attention to how much your legs are hurting and how hard you’re breathing. These thoughts turn into doubts, and they’ll try and convince you to give up before you’ve even got halfway through if you let them. Zoning out completely is the ideal way to conquer this, but if your head won't be quiet, then distract your thoughts by focussing on what’s going on outside of your body rather than the agonising pain within. Watch the persons feet in front of you, notice the leaves on the trees or the next lamppost you’re running to, anything to stop thinking about your aching legs!
  4. Just as you should ignore the discomfort, you should also ignore at all costs thinking thoughts like “10 whole miles to go, ugh!” Instead, break the race down into smaller segments so it seems less daunting. I like to imagine how many laps of the track I have left to go in the race. When I have 400m left, I know that there’s only one more lap of the track to go.
  5. The last tip is something I like to keep in my arsenal when I’m in the last few miles of a race and my mind is willing me to ease off and stop pushing so hard. I like to visualise the effort I’m putting in as a heat gauge, so when I can feel it dropping, I know I’m going under the limit that I need to be to get the best time I can get. This gives me that last bit of motivation I need to give it my all, increase the heat and visualise the gauge going back up again.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to have fun. Enjoying the race will put you in the best mental state you could be in in order to succeed. Good luck!

written by
portrait

Marcus Sladden

Digital Marketing Manager at NoblePro from Norwich

Age group: Open
Club: City Of Norwich Athletics Club
Coach: Paul Evans

My Disciplines
Functional training Strength training Half marathon 10 KM Marathon Track & field
Triathlon

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