Santa Running Exactly 5:50 per Mile Pace.

Picture Santa running perfect pace for a slightly hilly Half Marathon. Yes. Picture it. That’s what I did before I ran the Santa Hustle last year because I try to visualize every detail of the race before I run it.

Running the Santa Hustle in Sevierville TN

Running the Santa Hustle in Sevierville TN

Part of your regular training should be mentally preparing for your race. This takes on several forms while training and does not necessarily require spending any more time on your running than you already do. Just use your brain during your existing training to amplify your results.

1.  Running Intervals

Your interval sessions, whether on the track or on the road, should mimic your race goals. My goal time for the next 800 Meter repeat should not merely be 2:40. It should be “5K race Pace.” So in your head as you approach the line to start your half mile of zippiness, your brain is gearing in to knowing that pace is 5K pace. Dwell on that during the rep and imagine yourself in a 5K race, easily maintaining that speed. Thinking and focusing on “5K pace” is much more powerful than just “run 2:40.” Plan your track workouts and tempo runs around your goal race times. Even fartlek runs can be thought of as “5 surges of 5:00 at 15K effort.” Fartlek runs are not specific distances and are much less structured but they are still a good opportunity to tune your brain in to race day effort.

2. During regular mileage / recovery runs

While logging your regular miles it is natural and even healthy to let your mind wander and think about whatever you need to think about. While some people get their best ideas in the shower, mine usually come on a run! With your brain already active on a run, use just a few minutes of it to visualize your race. Use that training run to train your brain too.

My typical visualization process for a race starts as I arrive at the race site. I picture as much detail as I can about picking up my race packet, warming up, changing into my racing shoes and other standard pre-race rituals. Then I picture the starting line and the early part of the race. What is my pace? How do I feel? Who is running with me? I pick specific spots in the race to visualize such as mile markers or landmarks I’m familiar with on the course. How will I feel at that point in the race? Will I need to accelerate up a hill? Finally, I picture the final 200 meters; running strong, accelerating into a final kick to the finish! Then, possibly the most important part, I think about how it will feel to know I ran a great race. Sometimes I dwell on seeing a particular time on the finish clock. Other times it is the after party and the great feeling of sharing the accomplishment with friends. The key is focusing on the really great feeling of a race result I can be proud of.

The whole process of visualizing the race can take less than 10 min of my training run.Cementing the positive emotion into the race so it is already there for me on race day is key to fighting off negative thoughts on race day.

3. Warming up before the race

This might be the most effective race visualization you can get. Doing any other visualization you are imagining the air temperature, smells, sounds, and other aspects of race day. During your warm up you get the REAL thing. Actual race conditions in your lungs, under your feet and seen by your eyes! Use your warm up to picture your race much like I recommend for the training run visualization.  I use a specific play list on my iPhone while warming up. It is just long enough to stretch, run a 2.5 mile warm up and do some strides. The music is all positive and gets me focused. The positive aspect can’t be under stated. Using positive words in self-talk or pre-race music is important. Even negative words that express a positive notion should be avoided. A phrase like “Never Quit.” has two very negative words in it. Change it to “Finish Strong” and you have the same thought expressed with more positive words.

These three tips are just the start of what you can do to mentally prepare yourself for a race. Build from this basic framework and add one or two elements that you think will help you the most. Many good athletes prepare mentally for events without consciously trying to do it. It becomes instinct at some point. The good news is that we can also learn the techniques and as we grow in the intentional mental preparation, the instinct settles in and we do it without trying.

Some other recent articles on the subject:

http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/training/get-visual-mental-tips-for-training-racing_37222

http://www.runnersworld.com/sports-psychology/how-much-does-mental-toughness-affect-race-times?cm_mmc=Facebook-_-RunnersWorld-_-Content-News-_-EffectOfMentalToughness

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