Skip to main content

Master the mental art of running

| Healthy You | Exercise and Fitness

running man

Tips from a doctor for race day

Race season is here, and whether you’re training for a 5K or a marathon, mastering the mental aspect of distance running will be key to your success.

What to do before race day

It’s helpful to keep your mind quiet when running.  Some experts advise repeating positive affirmations such as “relax, relax, relax,” or “soft is strong,” or “run strong, run long.” Find the words that work for you. As you get used to this mantra, you can use it on race day and it will be familiar to you.

There will be rainy days, or days when you just don’t feel like getting out there and logging some miles. These are opportunities to work on adversity training. Remember, it may rain on race day. If you practice sometimes in the rain, you’ll be able to handle it better. Also, you may feel more tense or anxious on a race day. If you practice when you’re NOT feeling well, then you’ll be more successful, having conquered that feeling prior to race day.

Avoid negative self-talk. If you find that your stride is not smooth, don’t berate yourself. Just take the opportunity to correct your stride and get back into a good rhythm. When you start thinking about how tired you’re going to feel at mile 22, when you’re only at mile 5, it can turn into a very long run. If you break up your long run into manageable segments, it will seem easier, and you will get some mini victories as you run along.

Also, try to visualize the race wherever you may be training. As you prepare for your training run, go through, in your mind, what you will be thinking and doing prior to the race. As you run, thinking about running with others and other unique aspects of the course can help keep surprises at a minimum on the day of the race.

On race day

Try to go through your typical pre-training routines, so that everything seems familiar to you. Try to stay relaxed and control your breathing. Remember the mantra that you may have been using in your preparation runs and use it when you start getting nervous.

Focus on your race strategy. Try to stay in the moment and don’t think too far ahead. You’ve trained at a certain pace and keeping that familiar pace will help. Run the race like you train.

Fatigue is not just in the body. We get fatigue signals from the brain well before fatigue in the body sets in. Think of the gas tank that warns you when the tank is nearly empty, well before you run out of gas. Don’t let the brain fool you into thinking you’re tired before you are. When you start feeling fatigue setting in, you can address it directly, and say, “Hello, fatigue, I can’t talk with you now, I have to finish this race.”

If you try running at 100 percent, you’ll get tenser. Try running around 90 percent. This will help you stay relaxed, knowing that you still have something left. If you are feeling tense, try smiling. Even if you don’t feel like it.

After the race

After running a race, you will look back on some successes and some things you wished you had done better. Make sure to take note of BOTH. It is an accomplishment to finish a half marathon or a full marathon. Allow yourself to enjoy this moment, and revel in sharing it with hundreds of others in the running community.

Lorne Bigley, MD, FAAFP is a family physician with PeaceHealth Medical Group in Eugene, Ore.