The days, weeks and sometimes months leading up to a big race can often be more nerve-wracking than the start line. With idle time to fret over race-day details, it’s no wonder that anxiety can stunt performance. Your legs might be strong and your body may be fit, but if you aren’t in the right mental state, your mind can sabotage all your hard work.
Race day calls for a delicate mental balance. If you’re too calm at the start line, you might lack the drive to push when things get tough. But if you’re too nervous, you might be too scared to face the pain cave.
Luckily, through proper preparation, our minds can be an asset at the starting line. Here are some tips for mentally preparing for race day.
Focus on Goals You Can Control
You need to set measurable goals to keep motivated while you train. But it’s easy to become discouraged when you don’t meet those goals and it’s tempting to give up hope. Falling short of training goals can psych a runner out. She’s at a disadvantage in the race before the gun even goes off. While it’s critical to set measurable goals, you have to set goals that are within your control and aren’t tied to performance.
Your race goals might include setting a personal best or podium within your age group. While both are great aspirations, they’re both out of your control. Someone faster might always show up. Blustery race conditions might thwart you. But if you have goals like staying on top of nutrition and running the last third of the race as hard as you can, no one’s in control but you. If you emphasize on goals within your control over performance-oriented one, the day will be a success, no matter what.
Have a Plan for the Imperfect Day
It’s important to prepare for inevitable challenges rather than hoping for a perfect day. Before you toe the line, it’s good to identify issues you might face during the race (GI issues, blisters, bonking, etc.) to prevent fear from overtaking you. But it’s even better to have a strategy in place if you have to deal with those issues.
Despite planning ahead, some part of your race may still go wrong. In fact, if I were a betting woman, I’d say that things will definitely go wrong. Having a plan in place will take some pre-race weight off your shoulders.
Have a Post-Race Treat To Look Forward To Regardless of the Result
Results matter. But what matters more is celebrating the hard work you did to achieve those results. Regardless of the outcome, you worked hard in the lead-up to the start line. It would be a shame if your performance on on race day overshadows your training triumphs.
Knowing there’s some form of celebration waiting for you after the finish line can help you walk away with pride no matter the result.
Train Your Brain
It’s easy to focus on what can go wrong. But to succeed, you need to focus on what can go right. Reflect on the physical, logistical and mental strengths you have as an athlete. Being mindful of those assets reminds a racer they’re ready to take on a race and excel. When things get tough, think back to your weeks of hard training. You earned a place at the starting line. Remember that you didn’t get there by accident.