8 Mental Strategies to Get Race-Day Ready

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You’ve followed your training plan, cross-trained, and ate all the right food to get your body ready for race day. It’s been months of hard work, but when race day approaches suddenly your brain is trying to talk you out of running the race you’ve been dreaming of (eek!)! Running is largely a mental game, especially during the later miles of a long race when you’re reaching for any mental pep-talk you can to get across the finish line. Prepping your mental game can be just as important as prepping your body. So particularly for those of you about to join Cal-EZ for the Runner’s World  half marathon and festival this weekend – here are 8 mental strategies to get you race-day ready:

Start your mental routine early during your training

Don’t wait for race day to get your mind ready. Start during training, especially during the long training runs when you should be trying to run as if it were the big day. Practice relaxation techniques to use during travel, waiting at the start line, and during running; but start trying a variety of them early to find out what works for you.

Create goals, but be flexible with them

Don’t set limits on yourself during training–take baby steps and before you know it the next step becomes seamlessly obtainable. Know your limits, but don’t stop trying to push past them. On race day, set a time goal, aim for that PR, or focus on just crossing the finish line (an accomplishment in itself!). You may go into the race with a goal or two, but always have a back-up goal in case things don’t go as planned you can still feel accomplished. One piece of advice: set several small goals instead of just one big one. That way, you can work towards accomplishing your mid-race goals along the way.

Use the good days to push forward. Learn from but then move on from the bad days.

Not every workout or run is going to be “the best run of your life.” After a bad run, think about why it was bad. Did you eat poorly the night before, did you forget to replenish your body of the calcium you sweated out over the long and humid 10 mile run, or did you not sleep well? Was the weather terrible? Was the run too much, too soon? Look at your answers and figure out what went wrong so you can adjust. Use the bad days as a learning experience–remember, your ultimate goal is race day.

Find the ‘zone’ where you function best

Maybe you’re that runner getting pumped up by jumping around at the start line. Maybe you chat with other runners. Or maybe you have your headphones in listening to Josh Groban to calm your nerves. Don’t do what works for others, find what works for you. This takes practice and nobody can tell you what’s best for you but you. So be sure to try out your pre-race rituals in your training runs, and during shorter races you run to prepare for the BIG race.

Know what you can control and accept what you can’t

You can’t control the weather, your running partners, or whether someone bumps into you at the starting line. Everyone running the race with you has committed to their own training plans, race goals, and has their own physical strengths. So, it’s raining on marathon day? Shake it off. Don’t focus on what you can’t control–focus on YOU! Trust in your training. Get a good night’s rest the night before, eat well along the way, and train yourself physically and mentally so you are your best self on race day.

Use visualization

We runners have a tendency to forget all the positives and only think of the one negative aspect of our race or training… but don’t be that runner. Remember to focus on the positives to help build confidence for race day! Visualize a picture of what a successful race day looks like to you, whether that’s you crossing the the finish line, passing those last few runners at the 25th mile, or seeing your family along the course. Imagine yourself at various different points throughout the course (start line, finish line, mile 13, mile 20, running over that bridge) and think about how you will be feeling (scared, nervous, excited, tired). Replay this over in your head as you train: this is your ultimate goal. But also visualize other scenarios so you are prepared if things don’t go as planned: what if it rains or is windy? What if you don’t see your husband at mile 12? What if your feet are feeling heavy? How will you handle these scenarios? Visualize your response to these scenarios so you are prepared for everything.

Use deep breathing techniques

As quietly (as possible), close your eyes and inhale through your nostrils. Bring the oxygen deep into the bottom of your lungs so your belly expands first, then your chest. Hold your breath for several seconds, then release the breath slowly through pursed lips. Imagine you are exhaling stress, tension, and nerves. Perform this up to 10 times before the race, and as needed, to relax your muscles and your mind.

Keep your confidence and savor every moment

Stay positive, don’t stress about the end result or about trying to impress someone with your race time. This day is about you, so believe in yourself and trust your training. Look around you. Take in the sights, the smells (hopefully they’re good ones!), listen to the cheering, and think about the incredible things your body is doing at that very moment. Race day is scary and exciting, but it’s unlike any other day there is. You got this, runner!

What mental tips would you add? What helps you mentally prepare for race day?