Race Preparation Involves Physical and Mental Preparation. Are You Really Ready?
Running faster and running farther helps in race preparation. All runners know this. The wise runner prepares mentally too. It is one thing to say you are mentally ready to race, but do you really know how to prepare? Below is a video about mental toughness and the importance of getting prepared for a race.
As always here at tips4running, check the short list for the quick explanations. Keep reading past the list for details on each item about race preparation. Here are the three ways to be mentally prepared.
1. What is your race strategy? Racing without a plan is just like going out for another run. I have had races like this. Halfway through the race, I'd look around and not really know what I was doing or where I wanted to be. By the time I would figure out I should be doing something, the race would be over.
There are a couple of ways to prevent this. One is to plan on hitting different split times at parts of the race. Make sure you have a plan for what to do if you don't hit certain times. Weather, getting stuck behind a big group of runners, a sloppy course, and getting out too fast can mess up where you want to be. I always tell my runners if they are out to fast, today could be the day you have a personal record. Hang on! If you are out too slow, do something about it and push yourself.
The other step in race preparation is to know the course. Look at certain areas that you want to make moves. Using the hills is always great for Cross Country or road races. I like picking up the pace at the base of downhills. This isn't really picking up the pace. I try to keep my speed up for an extended period of time after a down hill. It's easier to stay fast instead of trying to surge. If you are better at staying strong after an uphill, plan on surging past competitors at the top of a hill.
On the track, I always tried to push the pace at the halfway point. The weird thing about this strategy is that I would end up with even splits doing this. One of the tough things about races is that you have to feel like you are running faster as the race goes on just to stay on the same pace.
These are just some race preparation ideas that you might find useful. No matter what race it is, have a plan.
2. Mental race rehearsal was a secret weapon that my high school coach used when I was a competitive runner. First, we came up with a race plan. The next step was running the race in our mind every day leading up to race day. We would only do team mental race preparation for the really big races.
My coach had a simple process for this. First we went over how to relax. Our team would all lay down on the grass (because that is what we ran on for Cross Country), close our eyes and take some deep breaths. We then would think of our best races. How it felt to run so fast, what we were thinking during this race, and what moves we made during the race. After this race rehersal we would imagine executing our race strategy for the upcoming race.
The ideas behind this are very sound. First being relaxed helps when running. Replaying successful races builds confidence. Finally, having a plan and running the race in your mind before it happens gives you a much better chance at success.
3. Now you are out there racing. Make sure you are running Race relaxed and fast. Straining your muscles actually slows you down. Watch a 100 meter race. The best sprinters find that balance between pushing as hard as possible while staying relaxed and fluid. The same thing applies in a distance race. Relax your face, shoulders and arms. Stay fluid. Even when you are nearing the end and you are pushing really hard, stay smooth.
Running relaxed is a skill you can learn by practicing it. Try running about 200 meters hard. Time yourself if you can. Give yourself some rest and think about running as fast as you can for another 200, but run it relaxed. Focus on pushing hard but keeping your face, arms, neck, and shoulders smooth. I bet the second 200 will be faster.
This might be the biggest key to great race preparation. At any time where you are in a race and feel spent, focus on saying to yourself, "I'm running fast and relaxed." Repeat this to yourself over and over. I have to do this sometimes just to hang with my front runners on the CC team that I coach. It works. Give it a try.
Are you ready now? I hope you give these suggestions a try. You might surprise yourself in the next race. Get a plan, mentally practice this plan, and stay relaxed. Now toe the line, and race your best.