Training for a race requires commitment and dedication. You spent weeks, months, even a year training for that goal race. You got up early and ran your miles or came home after a hard day of work and got out there. You went out in the freezing cold and the sweltering heat. You maybe missed a run here and there, but you are persistent and you know that consistency gets you to the finish line. You had that consistency in your training.
Maybe you went to the gym and lifted heavy things and set them back down. Maybe you did crunches, lunges, low rows, lat pulldowns. Maybe you did yoga and threw kettle bells around. You ate healthy foods. You kept your carb to protein ratio around 3:1 after your hard efforts and took rest days as needed. You are not screwing around!
Here you are around 6 weeks out from the Pittsburgh Marathon! You’re coming up on your peak training weeks. The long runs are getting oh so long! That thing called free time is a distant memory. There is one more important thing to do…..and maybe you haven’t realized it, but you’ve been doing it all along. It’s time for some mental training.
When you are running your hardest or your farthest or both there may come a time when your body is screaming at you COUCH! I WAANT THE COUCH!!! AND PIZZA AND BEER AND SAMMICHES AND SLEEP!! Your body wants to take the easy way. It likes comfort and running is far outside of the comfort zone in it’s most extreme form whether that be running your best 5k or finishing that first half or full. When the body says no more that is when the mental training kicks in. You’ll need to want the goal more than you want to stop. And barring medical issues your will power can overcome your body’s desire to stop. Believe me. At mile 50 of the Burning River 100 in 2016 I hardly could run another step and willed myself 52 more miles. This isn’t meant as a brag. It is a fact: Mind over matter works!
Here are a few mental training tips to help you prepare for race day.
Practice seeing that goal in your mind’s eye. See yourself running strong, feeling good, and crossing that finish line. Make it as vivid as you can. What are you wearing? Is it hot or cold out? But don’t just visualize the positive! You are going to hurt at some point during the race. Visualize how you will work through it. Cramps, GI pain, bonking. Mentally work your way through it. Practice this and draw on it when the run gets rough.
Is there someone special you can dedicate your race to? Maybe a family member you care deeply for, or someone close with a medical condition, or for those fighting an illness or disease. Or maybe to bring attention to an issue you care about. You can start a fundraiser on Crowdrise to put some wind in your sails. I run some races for the Epilepsy Foundation. As a person with Epilepsy I feel fortunate to run and to give back to the community. Doing something for ourselves is powerful, but for some of us, doing something for someone else is even more powerful and can propel your legs forward when you are deep in the pain cave.
What is your zone? Some people perform best when they are pumped up. Listen to that jam that gets your blood flowing. Get yourself excited!!
Maybe your optimal zone is being relaxed going into the race. Practice deep breathing. Inhale through the nose and count the seconds on your inhale and exhale through the mouth for the same count. Inhale 1-2-3-4 Exhale 1-2-3-4 And repeat. Let your body relax..let each muscle slacken and fall comfortably at rest. Whatever your optimal zone is find it on race morning.
You paid for it. You trained for it. Now don’t suffer through it!! Get out there with the intent to enjoy every second. Take in the crowds cheering, the bands along the route. Take in seeing all the different neighborhoods. You are on a wonderful long tour of Pittsburgh and it’s people so enjoy! See how many of our city’s murals you can spot. There are a ton of them! Talk with your fellow runners. My best races were the ones I felt relaxed going into. The ones I had no specific goal other than to finish were the most fun and oftentimes they resulted in PRs too!
Back when I worked at Outdoor Odyssey one of the core philosophies we taught and strived to live by was the MEPS triangle. The idea was to have an equilateral triangle by giving time and energy to work on all facets of your being. The mental, physical, and spiritual. And when all three are well-balanced then your emotional well-being will follow. While training for a race is primarily physical in nature leave time to feed the rest of your being and you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll perform at your best too. I can’t wait to see you all on May 6th in the City of Champiyinz!!