What separates professional and recreational runners? Besides racing slightly faster times, they are masters at thinking about thinking. The next time you race, use these tips to get the most out of your race experience.
Create a Race Plan
Before you step on the starting line, prepare a plan for exactly what you will accomplish. Instead of saying, “I wish,” “I hope,” or “I want,” write down a plan that starts with “I will.” As Olympian Desiree Linden famously does, create a to-do list for race day. Your to-do list might include hitting specific splits, or remembering a specific mantra once the race gets tough.
Develop a Nutrition Strategy
Separate from your race plan, develop a strategy for how you will eat and drink the day of the race. Plan exactly what you will eat for breakfast (something you have practiced), and the exact mile splits you will take in carbohydrates and sport drinks. Never leave race day nutrition up to chance, as gastrointestinal distress is a top reason that runners drop out of races.
Make a Mental Game Approach
Next, create a plan for what you will think about during the race. Lauren Fleshman, one of the greatest American distance runners of all time, once shared how she approached her PR 5k of 14:58. In this race, her mental strategy was the most detailed it had ever been before, where she had a plan for what she would think during each mile of the race. The strategy paid off, as it resulted in one of the fastest American 5ks ever run. For your next race, break up the course into sections. For instance, you might tackle a marathon as four, six mile segments, plus one shorter chunk of 2.2 miles. Dedicate each section of the race to a specific thought or a person who inspires you.
Focus on Negative Splits
If you look at the splits of almost every world record in distance races, the second half of the event was run faster than the first. Many recreational runners assume they must “bank” time by running the first half faster in order to reach their goals. This approach is dangerous, as it often leads to hitting the wall early. Instead, approach the race conservatively, trusting that you can run faster in the second half.
Visualize, Visualize, Visualize
Once you have developed your plan, visualize every aspect. Professional runners, on average, dedicate 12 minutes per day to visualizing their success. Instead of just seeing yourself perform well, use your five senses to visualize what you will see, hear, smell, taste, and feel during your performance.
Run your Race
Olympian Kara Goucher recently shared a story on social media about her NCAA cross country championship performance. By the first mile of the 3.75 mile race, she was nowhere near first place. She knew, however, that if she executed her race plan she could win. By the finish, Kara had passed over 30 women to win the title by 7 seconds. At the end of the day, you will have the most success if you follow your plan, and no one else’s.
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