There’s no doubt that the time spent training will go far in preparing you to run your best. But track intervals and long runs aren’t the only tools that will give you an edge on the start line. There are also a number of simple mental tricks and psychological tools that are proven to be effective in giving you a head start on the competition.
A mantra is a simple word or phrase to repeat when times get tough. A mantra should be personally meaningful to you and in all cases will keep you focused. It can be anything. Usually though, it’s short, positive and instructional. Most importantly, it should mean something to you. Mantras are useful both in training and during a race—particularly in the later stages when things start to get tough.
Here are just a few to consider:
- I’ve come so far. What’s a few more?
- Each step is one step closer.
- It’s still faster than walking.
- It hurts to continue but will hurt much more to stop.
- This is what I trained for.
- Be tall. Be light. Float forward.
- Finish strong.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting in a darkened room with your legs crossed listening to ocean noises. It can be just a few minutes of quiet time dedicated to focused thinking about your running, race or workout. Find a quiet place and commit to spending five minutes to settle down and focus. Relax your muscles and concentrate on your breathing. You should feel your heart begin to slow down. Think about all the benefits running brings. Recall that health is a combination of physical, mental and social components and that running can be beneficial to every aspect of your life.
Visualization is a more specific type of meditation and requires you to focus and concentrate on a specific event like an upcoming run, workout or race. The general idea is to imagine yourself succeeding in accomplishing your personal goals. Picture yourself on the starting line, feeling relaxed and confident, for example. Imagine the early part of the race as you settle into your goal pace feeling comfortable and in control. Picture key points and landmarks along the course — the halfway mark, the crowds of supporters, perhaps your family and friends cheering you on. Anticipate that things will get tough in the final part of the race but that you’ll overcome. Finally, visualize yourself finishing the race fast and strong.
Taking time to look back on past races can help you gain confidence as well as figure out areas you may need to improve upon. Look back on your best runs and try to recreate the feelings of satisfaction and exhilaration you felt. Take stock of all the mileage you ran in training. Think about the improvements you’ve already made and how far you’ve come. If you do have an area of weakness, think about what you’ve done to work on it. Be sure to also take on a relative view and be grateful for being able to run and how running has enhanced your life.
Also called introspection or “checking in,” this refers to actively thinking about how you are feeling in various specific situations such as at the beginning of your run, in the middle of a tough workout or near the end of a race. Associating is done by “looking” inward and subjectively assessing how you feel, how much effort you’re giving, or how much discomfort you feel. Being able to detect when you’re working hard allows you to make adjustments to your pace and not exceed your body’s limits. Making a conscious effort to gauge how you feel at various paces and points of a run will enable you to better adjust to changing circumstances and adapt quickly. It also helps to do this at various points of a race.
Exactly opposite of association, dissociation is distracting yourself from how you feel by engaging with external stimuli or thinking about something unrelated from what you’re doing. This concept could also be applied to beating the boredom of a long run, the sting of a hard interval or the burn of the last few kilometres of a race, for example.
There are many ways to dissociate while running. You could count landmarks along your route such as telephone poles, houses or fire hydrants. You could sing along (and aloud) to your iPod. You can create a shopping list or a to-do list for later. Or you can decide what you’ll eat, drink and do after your run.