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?