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Physically Prepared? What about Mentally?

How many times have you heard a runner say something about “doing all the training,” but then “falling flat” in the race? Basically, they followed the training plan, but then on race day, they didn’t cross the finish line in the time they thought they should.

Why not?

Well, for some runners, mental preparation is nearly as important as physical preparation, if a goal is to be achieved.

One of the things that I feel too many runners fail to do, especially those starting out (or have repeatedly laid eggs on the race course), is mentally prepare… the only thoughts they have about the race is doing their best to cross that finish line at a certain time . . . and look, they even set their watch to beep every “X” number of minutes to be sure they’re on pace.

Here’s the problem. Many PRs or race goals are major “fails” not because of how a person finishes, but because they failed to prepare for how they start and “maintain” their race – they’ve just imagined the glory of crossing that finish line. BUT what happens is, the gun sounds and because they haven’t thought the race through, they’ve already made and will continue to make all kinds of energy-wasting, PR-killing decisions.

For example:

• Allie had to drive 12 hours to get to her marathon on Saturday, but she stayed up late the night before to be with her boyfriend, who took her out to a new sushi restaurant . . . she’s mentally and physically feeling the effects — her gut is still queasy.

• The race starts, Mason’s adrenaline is streaming through his veins, and he decides to build some “buffer” time by going faster than planned in case he slows down a bit at the end of the race

• The competitive streak in Allie kicks in when a group starts to slowly pass her, she decides to let them pull her along at the faster (not her) pace

• The race start is PACKED and Cecil’s pace is far slower than what he needs it to be over the first mile or so, so he sprints, runs, jogs, shuffles, runs, dashes, shuffles, sprints through openings he sees back and forth across the route . . . expending extra energy, stressing himself out, and using “gears” that are not efficient for him as a runner.

• Aid station coming up, Cynthia . . . skip it to get ahead of other runners or hit it? What are you going to do?

Obviously, this list can go on and on, but these are all things that distract you and/or keep you from attaining your goal IF you haven’t worked it out ahead of time.

So, I believe taking the time to literally think through every phase of the race is a huge advantage. It can begin as early as what you’re going to eat and drink and how much sleep you’re going to get during the week before the race (especially if it’s a distance race).

From there, envision everything about the morning of the race, from what time you get up to what clothes you have on, and think about things such as food, bathroom break, getting to the race, another bathroom break, dropping off your gear bag, warming up, getting to the starting line, how it feels surrounded by so many people, hearing the gun, focus on running your pace, what you will do if you’re blocked in, how you’re going to go through aid stations . . . basically every portion of the race!

It’s also important to tell yourself how you’re going to endure/feel at each portion, how you’re going to get though those challenging parts of the race (and imagining yourself doing it), how you’re going to let others pass you while you remain in your comfort zone, how it feels passing other people who started out too quickly and/or didn’t think THEIR race through, etc. IF you can drive the race course ahead of time (or have run it before) literally think through every mile of the race and how you’re going to run it – relaxed, easy, in control, at your pace . . . envisioning a race helps your body to be ready for it, helps you to remember things you want to be sure to do (or not to do), and keeps you from making the mistakes that will cost you your PR/goal time.

AND YES, this little lesson comes from experience . . . my first marathon was the Fox Cities Marathon in Wisconsin. I was prepared, but really uncertain about what it would take to do a marathon. As I ran, at the time, sub 20-minute 5Ks and had a 62-minute 15K (not blazing speed by any stretch, but I was showing steady improvement), I figured that I should be able to run an 8-minute pace in the marathon, no problem.

Yeah, I was nailing the times and was even ahead of pace, but THEN around the halfway mark . . . the wheels started coming off. I drank some kind of energy drink they were passing out along the course that I never had before (MISTAKE! Within a mile, I was desperate for a port-a-potty), I had wasted a ton of energy doing the things listed above early on in the race, I had skipped an aid station because it was so packed, I left my pace group in the dust to build in some cushion time, and the difficult portions of the race caught me by surprise . . . let’s just say, the last 12 miles of the race were a nightmare of cramps, pain, and bitter disappointment . . . all because my preparation was to “make a time,” but I hadn’t thought my way through each step of getting to that time. : )

Rarely does a race go exactly how you envision it will go, but by taking the time to “envision” your race, you’ll have fewer surprises, you’ll have less stress, you’ll make fewer mistakes, you’ll run more relaxed, and your mind will be ready for the challenges as you’ve already “experienced” them ahead of time. : )

Have an awesome run today!


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