Racing Mental Strategies

Here we are, 3 days out from another race. This is the point at which I try to pull some sort of mental game plan together.

My approach in the past typically consisted of these things:

  • Review my training log to boost my confidence
  • Try to visualize the course and see myself running strong in the tough spots or hills
  • Choose a mantra to repeat when it gets tough

All of these are helpful  A few months ago, I read Runners World The Brain Train: How to Think Smarter to Run Better  which gives a lot of great practical tips for mental toughness including visualization techniques that I’ve been incorporating.

This week, I’ve been reading Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It? which takes a slightly different approach by telling stories about mental toughness pulling an athlete to a victory (or with the lack of mental focus, to failure).

Two things stood out to me.

The first is that instead of focusing on the external factors (out of our control), he explores through research and examples that the focus should be more internal.

External factors include the weather, how well our legs are feeling on race day, fuel strategies and hoping we did enough in training. These can even lead to a sense of dread and just wanting to get the race over with.  If you reach that point, you can almost guarantee you will not have your best race!

Internal factors are drawing on a determination to fight and work hard, no matter what the day brings.  This means expecting it to hurt and looking forward to powering through and giving it what you can.

Raise your hand if you’ve been guilty of the external factors.  ME!!!!  I will obsessively check the weather before a race and worry if I did enough.  Mid race, if my legs are not feeling fresh, I use it as an excuse to give up because clearly this is not my day.  According to Fitzgerald and his athlete examples, if you want it badly enough, you can pull out that pr despite tired legs or crappy weather.  Mind over matter – make it happen.

How do you find the motivation for mind over matter when it hurts?

The second key piece from this book (for me) has been the why behind the why.  Many successful athletes have childhood trauma driving them to push and succeed.  Many others faced trails in their training that they had to overcome.  This creates resilience and, sometimes, anger to drive us forward.  Think about how much extra power you have when you are angry!

Find something that really drives you.

Many of you know I’ve been chasing the sub-20 5k since hitting 20:01 about 4 years ago.  At the time, I was extremely frustrated with how long it was taking to get pregnant and often poured that frustration into my races. Clearly it worked!

I’m currently in a more comfortable phase in life, and it’s harder for me to find the extra umph to make it hurt.  In my last 5k (the 5k flop), I was dreading the race as I stood on the start line.  Of course it didn’t go well!

That’s not to say we have to be suffering or angry to run well.  But it helps to have something else pushing us to succeed.

There have been so many helpful points in both books… I highly recommend doing some reading if you struggle with the mental game.

I’m not sure what my plan is for Sunday… it feels good to have gotten the pr I wanted for the spring at the NYC half and have less pressure, but I do want to run well.  I’m trying to shift my thinking a bit so I’m prepared to be more of a fighter on race day.

For additional info on mental training, check out Tina’s podcast with psychologist Cindra Kamphoff.

Have you read any mental strategy books that you would recommend?

How do you typically prepare for a race mentally?


I am linking up with SuzRachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPatty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday.

11 thoughts on “Racing Mental Strategies

  1. As I think you know, I have read and listened to a ton of stuff (including Matt’s book) on mental training. There are different ways to approach it and I think a combo works best for me. However, one thing that is really helpful for me is focusing less on the outcome of a race. Of course I still have a goal but I’m thinking more about what I CAN control (my training, my mind) during the race and not let things like weather, other athletes, how my legs feel (external factors!) control my thoughts. Admittedly SO hard but I’m trying… My first big race of the season is about 5 weeks away so we’ll see how it plays out.
    GOOD LUCK to you this weekend. I think you’re on to something here 🙂
    Allie recently posted..Injury Prevention for Runners – Run It WednesdayMy Profile

  2. I typically just get in that ‘eye of the tiger’ mode. I don’t do any negative self-chatter, I just assume I’m going to succeed and focus on that. If I know I haven’t done enough workout to “succeed” with a win or PR (ha . . .that hasn’t happened in a while) then I remind myself that grit and gutting it out are one of my biggest strengths. Interesting, I worry about races hardly at all anymore when I used to be a worrier — good and bad in this, I guess 😉 Bad, when you show up to a race on the day after it happened (#truestory that happened last year, I was like “where is everyone,” at least it was only a 5k haha)
    Jennifer recently posted..How To Grill Avocados (That Don’t Turn Brown for Meal Prepping)!My Profile

  3. Honestly, I never considered how my legs feel as an external factor, but you’re right. I do know that my mental toughness definitely played a role in my last few successful races and I’ve been learning to push through the “pain” of racing hard and surprising myself in the process. Mind over matter really does work!
    Janelle @ Run With No Regrets recently posted..Runfessions – April 2017My Profile

  4. Very timely post as I am 10 days from my next race! I am currently reading Runner’s Brain. I love the Fitzgerald book 🙂 I’ll have to check out the Runner’s Word book too.

  5. I just listened to Tina’s podcast today actually and it was great!!! So much mental preparedness goes into racing and it can really get to you if you let it.

  6. I read How Bad Do You Want It and found it really helpful. I think using mental strength takes a lot of practice so whenever I get back to racing it will feel like I am starting all over. Good luck this weekend!

  7. I really want to read ‘How Bad do you Want It’ and keep not getting to it. I like the tips you pulled out! I have a race on Saturday (2 days!) – good luck in yours!

  8. Fitzgerald’s approach to mental training made such a positive impact on my mental approach to racing. I really like Cindra’s interview also, especially her advice to embrace discomfort. Embracing discomfort versus edging off when I feel it makes a huge difference in racing for me. Good luck this weekend!
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted..Friday ThriveMy Profile

  9. Pingback: How to turn anxiety into adrenaline on race day |

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