As a marathoner with a background in Psychology, I’m very aware of how much of a race is mental. The difference between a great training run and one you can’t wait to be over is typically attitude. New runners often spend weeks agonizing over their upcoming races. There are so many unknown variables to consider and, without having the experience of running that race distance a few times before, it’s hard to know what to expect or how to mentally prepare for race day.
In some ways, running is the easy part. It’s finding the motivation to get up and train multiple times a week that’s more challenging for people. Here are four tips for mentally training for race day:
1. Stay Motivated to Train
Pick a plan and stick with it. Having a concrete plan set up telling me exactly what to run each day makes it so much easier to roll out of bed and out the door while half asleep at 5 a.m.. Without a solid plan in place, you may be more likely to skip a workout or not make the most effective use of your time.
Watch inspirational movies or read running related books. While training for my first marathon, I started hearing runners rave about the Spirit of the Marathon documentary. I waited until I was a few weeks out from race day and was exhausted from running 50+ miles a week to see it. Watching it brought tears to my eyes (multiple times!) and reinvigorated me for the rest of my training cycle.
Announce your goals to friends and family. It may be scary to tell people you’re training for a half or full marathon, but once you announce it to the world, you’re holding yourself accountable for that goal. Added bonus: you may be able to enlist a friend to train with you!
Visualization is a term most runners have heard of but few I know put into practice. All it means is you spend time visualizing race day in extreme detail to help prepare you for the event you are training for.
While the technique of visualization can be extremely sophisticated, it doesn’t have to be. I find I can lower my race anxiety by spending time before bed each night visualizing the race and, particularly, what could go wrong during it. Whatever your biggest race day fears are, you should imagine them happening, picture exactly how you will overcome them, and then see yourself crossing the finish line at your goal time no matter what. No race is going to be perfect, and the more time you spend “practicing” in your mind how you will overcome the challenges the easier they’ll be to face.
Many runners will adopt a mantra
to help get them through the rough patches of a race. When I’m about 75% done and hitting a mental wall, I’ll start repeating one over and over while I try to focus on my breath and just move one leg in front of the other. They don’t have to be complicated or profound. A few of my favorites are: “can’t stop, won’t stop” and “one day I will not be able to run, but today is not that day.”
4. Treat Training Runs as Practice Races
As race day approaches, you should try to use long runs to practice everything you’ll do on race day. Start running the same time the race starts, make your pre-run (and mid-run
) meal the same as you plan to on race day, and even try to mimic the course route and elevation as much as possible. Before I ran my first marathon, I ran at least 6 long runs on parts of the course so, by the time race day came, I felt extremely comfortable with it.
In the end, you can train your muscles as much as possible, but they won’t perform at their peak abilities if you neglect to mentally prepare. Believe in yourself, trust your training, and your visualizations will become a reality!
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Erica House has her Masters in Psychology and has been teaching at the University level since 2007. She is certified as a Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine as well as a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. After quitting smoking and maintaining a 50 pound weight loss she became passionate about helping others on their journey to lifelong happiness and wellness.