Ever hear the phrase, “running/walking is 90% mental”? While that may be a bit of hyperbole, there is a lot of truth to the saying. Having a strong mental game on race day can be the difference between cashing in and crapping out on months of hard work and preparation.
Sport psychologists encourage relaxation and visualization during an event. Physiologically relaxed muscles are more fluid, react more quickly, and burn less energy. Relaxed bodies have lower blood lactate levels and allow for greater mental concentration. On the opposite end, when you are experiencing fear and stress, the body becomes tense and tight. Blood flow is directed to the brain, making it harder for the body to perform. Referenced from “Running Within” Jerry Lynch
The following five tips will help you relax and visualize your way to Race Day success!
Tip 1: Breath
There is no consensus on what the best breathing pattern is. I have personally found it helpful to keep my breathing under control as much as possible. If you can be thoughtful about each breathe, it will go a long way; staying relaxed will bring in enough oxygen while also relaxing your mind and body. You can even take this a step further by visualizing clean air circulating through the body with each inhalation, and toxins, stress, and negativity being released with each exhalation.
Tip 2: Body & Face
Remember: staying relaxed and under control is the name of the game. To do that you need to identify and eliminate areas of tension in the body and face. Aim for having loosely cupped hands, relaxed arms, dropped and relaxed shoulders, and a gentle anterior tilt of the head. You also want to relax your face. I typically visualize one of Salvador Dali’s clocks and try to make my face as close to that as possible.
Tip 3: Words
Develop positive mantras and be relentlessly optimistic. I remind myself over and over about all the hard work I have put in and how ready I am. But that is just me. Everyone runs or walks a race for different reasons. Whatever your reason, lean into that! And give yourself plenty of reminders when things are getting tough. I have also found that putting a smile on my face from time to time really helps a lot. After all, this is supposed to be fun!
Tip 4: Images
Using visual images can really help during challenging parts of a race. I typically like to think back to a time when a workout or race went really well and how great I felt. Putting my mind into that positive space helps me will it into existence again. I also like to imagine myself at the moment I cross the finish line and the joy I will feel when I’m done running and my goals have been met. Again, this is just me; mantras should be personal. Find what images motivate you and use them.
Tip 5: Handling Bad Patches
There are several coping strategies that help with handling bad patches during a race. I personally like to break the race into small, manageable chunks – the next mile marker, the next street corner, etc. Focus all your efforts on making it to whatever spot you have picked out in your mind. When you reach the spot you targeted, then choose another and repeat. Other successful tactics include quickening your pace for short bouts of 50-100 meters to change things up, or focusing on your running form to make sure you are maintaining good running posture.
Now that you have the keys to the castle, you should be ready to crush it on race day! If you think I missed anything feel free to share in the comments any strategies that work for you. I also love hearing success stories, so let me know if any of these tips work out for you. Fare well! I wish you the best of luck in your upcoming events!