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8 Ways to Talk Yourself Through a Tough Race

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Rob Murray

Rob is a self confessed running geek, obsessed with all things related to the sport, whether road, track or triathlon.
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We’ve all been there; a certain distance into a race, your legs are hurting and you’re thinking how much easier it would be to just stop running and pull out? Obviously if you’re feeling unwell then find a marshal ASAP but these tips are to help with that mental battle…

1. Prepare well.

Do the right training for your distance so that you feel confident that you can finish. Then, as you run you can tell yourself, “I’ve run this far in training, I can do it now!” Like-wise, drink plenty the day before and carb-load (for over 10k) the week before. Have a good bowl of porridge two hours before and a banana 20 minutes before the start. That way, when you start to flag you can again tell yourself that you’ve got the fuel in you so just get on with it!

2. Treat yourself

Take energy laden goodies along with you to give your self segmented rewards. Whether proper energy bars, gels, flapjack (my go-to race food), boiled sweets anything will do. Set yourself some markers before you set off, e.g. “Ok, at 6 miles I can have my flapjack, at 10 miles my energy gel… etc. Before you know it, you’re crossing the finish line!

3. Distract yourself

Music from an iPod can help with this, but many road races in the UK don’t allow you to wear headphones for health and safety reasons. Instead, disassociate your thinking self from your body – just because you’re running, doesn’t mean you have to be thinking about running. Start planning your next holiday or even do some sums in your head. Sounds crazy but it works to distract you.

4. Stop looking at your watch

…and start using your body’s own, natural, effort based pacing. Feel the ground through your shoes, look at the person in front of you, enjoy breathing the fresh air, look around at your surroundings. Staring at a ‘miles per minute’ on your Garmin that isn’t as you planned can be energy sapping in itself. You’re running – that’s amazing in itself.

5. Body language

Concentrate on your form and how you’re running. Stop slouching and stand tall looking to an imaginary dot on the ground twenty metres ahead of you. Drive with your arms, keep your body straight and try and let your feet touch the ground for as little time as possible. Running this way is more efficient and will help you to go further, faster even though your natural reaction to tiredness is to hunch your shoulders, shuffle and look at the ground. Fight it!

6. PMA

Positive mental attitude. You could think, “I hate this race. Why did I enter this race? How am I ever going to finish? I feel so terrible…” Bad thoughts can manifest themselves physically, making you feel even worse – a downward spiral. Change it up and remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to run at all – plenty of people can’t. In a half marathon for example, instead of thinking, “eurgh, 6 miles to go”, think “wow, halfway there, just a little 10k run to do now.” Enjoy the sunshine, relish the rain and beat the race rather than it beating you.

7. Make not finishing not an option

If you start a race thinking that it doesn’t matter, and that you can just pull out if you’re not doing as well as expected, then that’s exactly what you will do. Don’t start a run expecting failure. Start it seeing yourself crossing the finishing line, proud of yourself. Don’t even let the thought of not finishing enter your head.

8. Remember the Science

Humans, according to Christopher McDougall are ‘Born to Run’. We’re literally made to run over long distances having evolved this way to hunt down antelopes who were far quicker at sprinting. Also, our brain is the single largest consumer of glucose in the body. As soon as you start running for any extended period, using up all that nice glucose energy, your brain thinks, “hang on a minute, I want that, stop wasting it on running” and it will make you think you need to stop. Fight your brain, ignore it, tell it to stop being so selfish!

Author: Rob Murray

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