Many elite athletes have come to understand how important the mental aspects of running are is to their performance. By enlisting the help of a sports psychologist, athletes are able to block out negative emotions and thoughts, which allows them to perform to their potential. It is so important for runners to understand how to understand and strengthen their mental running.
I came to understand the importance of mental running on October 31, 1998. The event was the League Cross-Country Championships. My team was heavily favored to win, and I was expected to be one of the top ten runners in the league. My training had gone flawlessly over the last six months, and I was ready to roll. However, things went horribly wrong.
When the gun went off I was partially tripped by another runner, and, as a result, I got off to a terrible start and was running around 40th at the first half mile mark. I should have relaxed and told myself that there was still plenty of racing left, but I didn’t. I panicked. Stupidly, I tried to make a desperate move to claim my rightful top 10 spot in the race. Sensing disaster, I allowed my breathing to get out of control, and allowed my face and upper body muscles to get tight. Soon, I was in oxygen debt and, after what seemed like an eternity, I staggered home in 30th place. My team lost the meet by three points. I was devastated.
What I Learned From the Race of October 31
This race was turning point in my running career. It forced me to realize that racing well was not only about doing high mileage and running fast workouts. In addition to training my body, I began to understand that I had to training my mental running as well. A runner can be in the best shape of his or her life, but if he can not keep his emotions under control in a race, he will not run to his potential. Whether it be falling down, getting beat by a runner who you thought was worse than you, or not feeling as good as you thought you would, a successful racer must be mentally strong and able to adapt to unforeseen situations in a race without losing his focus.
If you are unable to maintain concentration during a race, your breathing will become shallow, your muscles will constrict, and, soon, you will be running the worst race of your life. Here are some things I have learned about how prevent yourself from panicking in a race:
The Race Is Not Won In The First Mile
One of my big problems was panicking when I saw someone ahead of me who I thought I would beat. All of a sudden, my plans were out the window and goal of staying relaxed vanished. What is important to realize is that most runners go out too fast. Just because there are a bunch of less talented racers next to you, or ahead of you, in the first half of a race, it does not mean that they’ll be there at the end. It is important that you stick to your own race plan and not get caught up trying to win the first 2 miles of a 5k race.
Don’t Hit The “Panic Button”
As mentioned, there are a lot of unforeseen things that can happen in a race. Falling, feeling lethargic, and being farther back than you thought you would be can all make you go into panic mode. If you feel yourself start to freak out a bit from something, and sense your breathing become shallow and your head tilt back…STOP. Pretend that there is a “Panic Button” in your brain. As long as you don’t hit the Panic Button you’ll be able to stay relaxed and focused throughout the race. Thinking in this way is a good method to essentially reset your state of mind, and get your breathing and concentration back under control. In other words, it’s “mind over matter.”
The Second Wind Is Real
One of the hardest things to understand during a race is that even if you feel terrible during the first half, there is a good chance that, provided you keep your emotions under control, you will feel good the second half. To prove this to you, think about this idea during your next hard workout. Often, the first repeats of a workout are harder than the last few. Like workouts, sometimes it takes a while for the body’s engine to get started in a race. However, if you panic during the first half because you aren’t feeling great, you’ll never know what would have happened if you stayed relaxed and gave your body the chance to “start”.
Get In A Relaxed State Before The Race
I have talked a lot about how to keep relaxed during a race. However, if you are not relaxed before a race, you have almost no chance of settling down once the gun goes off. Therefore, about 15-20 minutes before the race, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing. Lay on your back and breathe in and out very slowly. Visualize yourself running well without any stress. Prepare yourself for any possible unforeseen situations and affirm that they will not take you out of your cool and collected state of mind. Remind yourself that you can not control any of the other racers or situations that you may encounter, but you can control your response to those things. This process should get you loose and relaxed.
Don’t Be Afraid to See A Sports Psychologist
Unfortunately, there sometimes is a stigma associated with seeing a sports psychologist. I have heard more than one runner say, “I don’t need a shrink.” This is really a shame because those runners are only cheating themselves and ensuring that they will never run to the best of their ability. Through years of study, sports psychologists have discovered the very best methods that allow runners to use their mental running to reach their potential. Don’t let uninformed opinions of other runners jade your view of these incredibly helpful professionals.
I hope these tips help you. If you can control your emotions during a race, and stay relaxed, you will have an advantage over so many other runners who can not.
Back to Racing