Our minds can be our biggest supporters yet also our harshest critics. In a race our minds often flip-flop back and forth between cheering us on and convincing us that we are not capable of what it is we set out to accomplish. It’s important to not only be physically prepared for a race but also mentally prepared.
One of the ways I prepare my mind for a race is to write out how I think I’m going to feel each mile. Races where I plan on pushing my limits in either distance or pace are the most important ones for me to do this exercise beforehand.
For a marathon, I will detail out the miles or chunks of miles; for shorter races such as a 5K I will detail out each half mile. This mentally prepares me for any negative thoughts that may arise while I am in pain and gives me an action plan to combat those thoughts with positive ones.
When the going gets tough, my mind will recognize that the emotions and thoughts aren’t new but simply part of the racing experience. It helps me not question my abilities in these low moments and allows me to embrace the inevitable pain that comes and not run from it.
Here’s an example of a 10-mile Mental Race Plan:
Start line: You are going to feel nervous. This is going to make your stomach hurt a little and it’s going to cause you to wonder if your digestive system is going to cooperate. It’s just the nerves. Don’t let it get to you. You prepared for this race. You trained hard. No regrets.
The gun goes off: Practice patience. Remember that the first couple of miles won’t make your entire race but they can break it if you start out at a stupid pace. Let people pass you. Don’t get caught up in competing with anyone, not even yourself. Run slow.
Mile 2: Settle in to the pace. Slow your breathing by taking some deeper breaths. Remember to stand tall, open your lungs up and relax your arms and hands. Ten miles isn’t far for you, but it is a long way to go when you are pushing the pace.
Mile 3: If you feel good after mile five you can start to pick up the pace faster, right now focus on speeding up a bit at a time. You don’t want to be in a lot of pain now but you aren’t going to feel comfortable either—accept that.
Mile 4: You are close to halfway there. Before you know it the race will be over. You trained hard for months for this, don’t let the pain stop you from reaching your goal. You are in shape. Do not let the doubt demons that will jump on your back soon convince you otherwise.
Mile 5: Smile. This is supposed to be fun. You do this because you like this. Your legs are feeling heavy, that’s normal.
Mile 6: This hurts. Running fast and pushing your limits isn’t easy. In less than an hour this will be over and it will become a distant memory. You will either remember that you pushed through or you will remember that you gave up on yourself. The choice is yours. You have been in this spot before and have made both choices before. Which one made you happier?
Mile 7: You can do this. These last miles are going to feel like an eternity. I know you are going back and forth in your head. I know the doubt demons are telling you to stop now, to ease off the pace. Maybe they are making you think that something is wrong, that today just isn’t your day. They are lying to you. Today is your day.
Mile 8: Now is when you want to quit but it’s when you need to turn it on. Imagine every person you pass is giving you a bit of their energy. They are propelling you on to the finish. The difference between a good race and a great race is one where you run your mind. Do not let your body run your mind and convince you that you have given your all. You have not given your all, your body has more to give.
Mile 9: Don’t look at your watch. Stop the mental calculations of how much you can ease up right now and still meet your B goal. You did not train for months to give in, in the last two miles. You want your A goal. A B goal is fine and if you push and hit your B goal, then okay, but the B goal is only okay if you are giving your all. Yes this hurts. Hurts like hell, to be exact, but that’s what racing is.
Mile 10: You can do anything for a mile. One single mile is all that stands between you and the end of this pain. I promise you that you won’t remember this pain a week from now. You may even forget it the moment you cross the line. I want you to dig deeper than you ever have before. Think of someone in real pain, pain they can’t control. You can control this and it will end shortly. Finish strong my friend. I’m proud of you.