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Mental preparation

Mental tips

Peak performance in training and racing relies on a strong foundation of physical, mental and emotional preparation. Then we can go the extra mile or have that added rush of energy when we need it most during the race.
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Peak performance in training and racing relies on a strong foundation of physical, mental and emotional preparation. Then we can go the extra mile or have that added rush of energy when we need it most during the race.

Stress & Fight or Flight

Our body has an innate intelligence and specific mechanisms that allow us to perform. The stress response is the body’s way of rising to a challenge, whether the challenge is life threatening or fun. 

If we get the right type of ‘stress,’ we call it a challenge and we enjoy it. If we get the wrong type of stress it can affect us in a negative way. Each of us have a personal relationship with stress (whether we are aware of it or not), but do we really know how it operates deep within us?

If you’re running from a mountain lion, you summon all your energy for the ‘fight or flight’ fear or protection response.

Growth is vitally important to survival as well. Every day billions of our cells wear out and need to be replaced, growth processes are necessary to produce energy.

Quite simply we cannot perform at our best in a stressed state. Excelling at anything requires monitoring your stress level and then adjusting your sleep, diet, exercise and relaxation strategies to avoid ‘burnout’ or a plateau in performance.

To reach our running ‘full potential’ we need to train not just on our physical body but also our mental and emotional talents as well. It is the other side of the coin.

Stress and negative emotions are huge energy drainers and interfere with our focus, concentration, ability to perform and our general health. The principle source of stress is the system’s ‘central voice,’ our mind.

Whilst we must have mental strength and emotional resilience to commit to a training programme and stick to it, we also need to be able to manage ourselves and our lives. We need to be an excellent self-leader, playing to our strengths and letting go of anything that does not serve us.

Our mind is like the driver of our body, the “vehicle”. If we practise good “driving skills”, managing our behaviours and dealing with our emotions, we can expect a long, happy running career and life.

In its place, inappropriate behaviour and dysfunctional emotional management, like a bad driver, stresses our “vehicle,” and we could end up with an unfulfilling running career combined with a life full of crash and burn experiences.

Tips to drive your training and racing in the right direction

Give yourself confidence for your target race by putting in specific training for your big day. For example, if you’re training for a hilly half marathon, practice your long runs over hilly terrain, spend time in the gym to strengthen your legs and perform regular hill sessions. Doing all this specific practice will give you the physical tools to execute the race you want. Think back to all your preparations during the final days before your race to draw confidence that you’re ready.

Fitness takes time to develop and at during the early stages of your training bad days will happen. Even during a purple patch of training, the odd bad day’s training can come up. When it does, don’t let it phase you. It happens to us all (even elite athletes). A bad workout doesn’t mean that you’ve lost all your fitness and turned into an untrained athlete. Try to forget it as soon as you can and move on. Look for the reason for the bad day, learn from it and then change things to reduce the chance of it happening again.

Prior preparation prevents poor performance / stress closer to or on race day. Start to organize things for race day a week in advance. Make a list, go over it and tick things off. It will help you to stay organised and in control of your nerves.

In the last few weeks and days before your race, try to keep your increased excitement balanced with your race readiness but not so you build pent up energy, so that you feel anxious. Focus on controlling the things you can control for race day (kit) whilst not worrying about the things you can’t control, such as the weather.

Hanging around other runners in the lead up to a race is not always a good thing. ‘Have you done this? Have you done that?’ It can cause you to worry and lose focus. Don’t listen and get distracted! Avoid getting caught up with how everyone else is preparing or training. On race day run your own race. Focus on your own goal, not someone else’s. Ignore peer pressure and do your best.

Practice your pre-race routine several times during your training. This will condition your body to race mode but more importantly, condition your mind to relax in the comfort that a set routine has yielded past success.

It’s nice to daydream before a race. You can do this during your day or out on an easy run. Sometimes inspirational music we enjoy helps us visualise running strongly and crossing the finish line in the time we want. It will increase your excitement but in a positive way. If you use songs during training to help you visualise success, then use the same play list again on race day as you prepare or during the race whilst you run.

This applies to your training racing. Tell yourself that you can adapt to adversity during training and that the tough times won’t last forever. The training will pay off. If you start to worry about the outcome of your race, go back through all your training to see all the positive good training sessions that you did. This will put you in a positive frame of mind. Going into a race with a positive outlook is far more likely to yield you the outcome you want than going into the race with a negative outlook.

Break your race down into smaller chunks in your mind. Ie. 5k into 5 x 1 km or a marathon into 8 chunks with some extra on top. Dividing races down into smaller pieces will make the distance seem far more achievable. A marathon could become eight pieces of your favourite pizza or pie with an olive or cherry on top for your final 2.195 km. As you complete each 5k, visualise the pizza or pie being eaten so it becomes smaller and smaller.

Smiling during training / racing will relax the brain and body so you run more efficiently. Frowning or gritting your teeth will make you tighten up and run less efficiently. During a recent study, runners who smiled for a long period of time during racing were 2.8 pct more efficient (used less energy) running than runners who were frowning. Over the course of the marathon taking 4 hrs, that’s quite a difference!

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