7 Strategies to Build Mental During a Running Competition

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7 Strategies to Build Mental During a Running Competition


Nearly all distance running coaches will agree that the mental aspect is equally important in achieving success during a race.

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But when asked how much time these coaches spend working on the mental aspect of the sport, very few give this priority when training their athletes.

So the question is, how do you prepare your mental and emotional strength on race day during training and in your mind?

Sports psychologists suggest visualization techniques to help you gain confidence in your physical state as well as mental strength. But are visualizations really useful? And if so, how do you apply this to your training phase?

This article will describe how visualization has helped some of the world’s best runners, when is a good time to apply this technique, and explain one step at a time to add visualization to your training program.

How Effective Is Visualization?

World athletes, from professional golfers to Olympic medalists in athletics, practice visualization in their training programs.

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One example of a visualization technique success story is Mark Plaatjes’ performance when he won a gold medal at the World Championships marathon in 1993.

Plaatjes received several photos of the marathon route located in Stuttgart, Germany, and uses these images extensively to perform visualization techniques so that he knows each incline and descent of the route. Plaatjes had mentally run the route countless times with various scenarios before he even arrived in Germany. On the day of the competition Plaatjes ran with confidence and mental readiness and won a gold medal.

Mental training and visualization have proven effective for the world’s athletes, but will this technique work for you too?

Visualization In Training

The most effective way to use visualization is to help prepare you for anything on race day. Sports psychologists argue that there is no difference between real experience and imagination for one’s mind. This means that your mind can’t tell the difference between the races you are actually running physically and the races you are doing in your head.

Just as an actor has to practice every line of scenario and movement for his best performance, runners must train and be prepared for all the possibilities and situations that could occur on race day.

Step 1: Specifications and Details

For the best possible visualization of race day, a complete mental picture needs help from all five senses.

Imagine yourself at the starting line, among thousands of other runners – was it hot, cold that day, what clothes are you wearing? When the start time begins, visualize the increase in your heart rate and the bustle of your surroundings as so many runners struggle their way through the line of other runners. By feeling all these emotions, images, and sounds, you can prepare yourself to stay calm, in control and run according to plan in the midst of chaos.

The following are some of the important elements to consider:

  • Weather. Will it be cold on race day? (How does low temperature affect log times) Will the day be hot? (How do high temperatures affect log times) Will the air be humid or rainy? (how to run in bad conditions) Find out and study the weather forecast not only on race day but also from previous days.
  • Routes. Will there be a lot of incline along the race route? If so, how many and at what points on the route are the inclines located? (Learn how to run the uphill route during the race) Routes with lots of turns should also be anticipated, as well as routes where there is a large crowd along the way as this tends to encourage runners to run too fast at the start of the race. The major competitions usually have a map and climb list of route inclines on their site.
  • Population. Find out how many runners enter the race each year and how things are at the starting line in general. Preparing to be among a crowd of thousands of runners can calm a runner who is easily nervous.
  • Scenery. What will you see throughout the race? Does the route pass through an urban or rural area? Will there be an audience along the way or do you have to cheer yourself up?

Step 2: Visualize the Worst Possibilities

Visualize everything you can imagine, everything that is positive and everything that is negative. Even with a very high fitness level, there will definitely be times in the race when you will feel sick. Imagine yourself struggling through the moment so that when the time comes you are ready and know what to do about it.

Also imagine what you will do and feel when bad things happen. What if you loose your shoelaces or you suddenly have to go to the bathroom? By imagining this scenario, you can prepare a specific plan, not panic, stay calm and in control.

Before a big competition, write down a list of things that might happen, for example as below:

  • Cramps
  • Running alone
  • Run in groups
  • Digestive problems
  • Blistered skin
  • Loss of performance or Bonking
  • Costume failure (loose shoelaces, skin abrasions due to friction of clothing fabrics, etc.)
  • Nutritional failure (past the point of drinking, loss of gel, etc.)

Step 3: Build Confidence

Another advantage of doing visualization during practice is self-confidence. It has been shown that a high level of confidence is correlated with an improvement in performance levels. By imagining yourself achieving success, you can increase your confidence and confidence in your abilities.

Do mental strengthening and talk to yourself. Spend 5 minutes standing in front of the mirror every night before bed to tell yourself positive messages in detail. The mirror helps activate the visual receptors in the brain and internalize the positive message. Phrases like “I’m healthy, I can run fast” tend to work for many runners. At first it might feel silly talking to yourself in front of a mirror but if you can make a runner run better, there’s nothing to lose in trying.

Visualization Before the Race

As race day approaches, it is only natural that you will start to feel nervous and not want all the hard work and practice that has been done to be wasted. This is the time to apply the visualization techniques you did during training to reduce anxiety before the race.

Remember All Successes During Exercise

Think back to all the exercises you have done, especially the sessions that made you feel like you accomplished something. Feel the emotion of success.

Focus on Things You Can Control

We tend to get nervous because we don’t know how something will end, like how we were in the second half of the race.

Take your focus away from things beyond our control (logs, other runners, weather) and aim for results you can control.

Visualize yourself running according to a practiced plan, warming up and even focusing on breathing techniques. By directing your mind to the physical and mental aspects within your control, you will feel less restless and your success ratio will increase.

Visualization During the Competition

Racing is not easy. At some point on the way to a successful race or recent record time you will feel sick and be filled by doubt. But letting negative thoughts sway you is the easiest way to thwart performance.

Stay Positive With Mental Reinforcement

Before the race starts, remember a few short messages that can raise your confidence and make you endure tough moments during the race. Make sure the message is positive in tone, for example “I am strong, I can” will be more effective than “Ignore the pain, don’t give up”. The second sentence has a negative connotation in the words “hurt” and “give up”.

Implement mental cues Apply Mental Cues

Mental cues can also be used to remind yourself to run in good shape when you face a hike or when you start getting tired. The mantra “Run relaxed” in the last kilometer can help reduce tension on the face and shoulders when a runner is tired.

How to Apply Visualization

Relax! Find a dark, quiet room and relax your body from head to foot. Imagine a beautiful and serene place. When the mind and body are relaxed, visualization can begin.

Imagine. Based on the race scenario that you have designed, imagine the starting area in your mind. Feel the air on race day, hear the sounds around you or the music in your ears. Build a mental image that engages all five senses before the race starts.

Focus on emotional and physical sensations. Feel the emotion of doubt and restlessness at the starting line but use positive language to beat it. “I can!” When the start starts and you start running in your mind, focus your energies on feeling calm and relaxed, don’t start running too fast and find a consistent rhythm. Visualize the pain that will be felt and see other runners around you, reminding yourself that they are also feeling the same pain.

Project positive results. Project the timestamp you want to achieve displayed on the large clock above you as you run across the finish line with your hands in the air, imagine the joy that will be felt when all the hard work pays off. Imagine family and friends approaching you with pride. Even imagine the food and drink you will enjoy after the race.

Repeat. Visualize the race from the start with different scenarios (weather differences, possible physical problems, etc.) Do this 1-2 times per week a month or two months before race day.

It is true that any amount and effort of visualization during the training period and during the competition will be wasted if it is not supported by a good training program. However, if you are fully pushing your physical abilities and want to continue to improve your performance, this visualization technique can give you an advantage.

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