Mental Toughness During Races

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Strategies to Help You:

So, the question is, how can you prepare for the mental and emotional rigors of race day during your workouts and in your mind?

Sports psychologist recommend adding a technique called visualization to your race day arsenal so you can toe the line feeling confident in both your physical and mental strength.

In this article we’ll outline how visualization works for some of the best runners in the world, when you should implement it in your training, and outline a step-by-step process for helping you easily add visualization to your training repertoire.


How to visualize in training:

The most effective way to use visualization is to help you be prepared for anything on race day. Any sports psychologist can tell you that to the human mind, there is no difference between an actual experience and an imagined one. This means that your mind cannot tell the difference between a race that you run in-person and a race that you run with your mind’s eye.

Step 1: Be specific and detailed

Imagine yourself at the starting line, surrounded by other league runners – is it hot, is it cold? When the gun sounds, envision the acceleration in your heart rate and the claustrophobic feeling as the stampede begins. By conjuring up these emotions, sights, and sounds, you can prepare yourself to remain calm, collected, and execute your race plan in a chaotic environment.

The more specific you can be with the sites, sounds, and emotions, the more calm and confident you’ll be on race day. Here are some important elements to consider:

  • Course. Will the course have hills? If so, how many and at what point of the race? Also pay attention to courses with many turns that can break rhythm and courses that feature heavy spectator cheering that can push you.

Step 2: Don’t just visualize the positive – expect the unexpected

Likewise, visualize positive and negative scenarios. Let’s face it, no matter how fit you are, a race is going to hurt at some point. Imagine yourself working through those bad moments during the race. This way, when they inevitably occur, you’ll know exactly what to do and be confident you can work through them.

Visualization before the race

Recollect all your great workouts:

If you find yourself getting nervous before the race, start thinking back to all the great workouts you had during your training. Think back to your last successful race and begin to conjure up those same feelings of accomplishment.

Focus on what you can control:

Take the focus off those elements of the race you can’t control (your finishing time, your opponents, the weather) and direct them to outcomes you can control.

Visualize yourself executing your race plan, going through your warm-up routine, and even focusing on your breathing. By directing your thoughts to those physical and mental aspects you can control, the nerves will dissipate and you’ll increase your chances of success.

Running Within by John Lynch.


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