Setting a PR is never an easy task but it’s often more in your head than in your legs.
Many runners arrive at a start line ready to set a PR, but often don’t pull it off. On the flip side, many people have set PRs when they thought their training didn’t go as well, or they were sick and missed training. People always ask me how I mentally pull things together on race day, and how I maintain focused when competing in events lasting 16 to 24 hours. Here’s my mental approach to setting a PR in any race.
Trust your training: Avoid worrying about whether you executed the perfect training leading up to the event; focus instead on those runs that went well and the confidence you had after finishing hard workouts.
Decide you really want it: Visualize achieving success while you’re training. You have to really want it on race day. There is nothing stronger than an intense will, so make sure you focus on that passionate drive to achieve your goal.
Have a plan: The week before the race, develop a plan for your race. Don’t just do it in your head—write it down and share it with those who might be assisting you at the race (crew, family, pacer, etc). Take detailed notes on your pacing and fueling plan, such as what you’ll eat and drink and when. For pacing and splits, have an A and B goal—one that is realistic and another that is a bit loftier.
Know something might go wrong: As important as it is to remain optimistic, it’s very healthy to know that something may go wrong. Be prepared to manage a problem if it arises. It is crucial to stay calm and focused when facing a setback—focus on the things you can adjust. There is hardly a problem that is too big to overcome.
Use small goals: While it’s important to gather motivation from your desire to PR, setting small goals will ensure that you achieve the larger one. These small goals could be pacing goals such as getting to the next 5K split or next water stop. Sometimes small goals can be as micro as getting to the next shady spot or bend in the road. Whatever small goals you set, be sure to use the motivation of achieving them to drive you forward. They will make the larger goal of a PR more attainable.
Stay in the present: It can be hard to stay focused during a race. A big part of staying mentally strong includes achieving calm amid the mental “storm” of pressure and expectation. The athletes who are successful at achieving goals and PRs perform well under pressure by staying in the present moment. I find it helpful to focus on things like my running form, breathing, fueling and hydrating. These focus points can take the edge off the discomfort and fatigue that set in during the second half of a race. Trust me, even top-level athletes feel discomfort, even if we make it look easy.
Setting a PR is never an easy task but it’s often more in your head than in your legs. Dig deep mentally and that PR will be in your reach!
This column first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.
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