Change Your Mindset To Improve Race Times

One way to build speed is to run with people faster than you. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Strategies To Recondition Your Mind

Given the importance of self-belief and not being intimidated by fast race times, how do you recondition your mind to rethink about what you think is possible? If you’re at a standstill or you’re facing a time barrier you just can’t seem to conquer, what strategies can you implement to take the next step?

Switch Your Measurement System
One of the easiest ways to alter your perception about intimidating paces is to switch the units by which you measure your runs. Try measuring your runs by kilometers if you use miles, or by miles if you use kilometers. Obviously, you’ll need to do some converting, but when you’re thinking about the difficulty or magnitude of hitting your next tempo run, track interval, or race split, your reference point will be entirely different.

If you use the imperial system, attempting to run a 3:43 kilometer might seem easier than a 6-minute mile because your perception of the difficulty required to run a 3:43 kilometer has yet to be established. When you reflect on your goal workouts or your target race paces, you’ll be able to think rationally about your fitness. Hone in on your ability to hit the paces based on your workouts as opposed to being intimated by how fast you used to think these splits used to be.

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Take It Step-By-Step
Runners who have an ambitious goal (qualifying for Boston is the most common), but aren’t anywhere near their qualifying time, need to break down their overall progression and perception of their paces into smaller chunks. If you’re a 3:45 marathoner and need to run 3:20 to qualify for Boston, you can’t expect your mind to be comfortable with going from 8:35 pace to 7:38 pace in one giant swoop.

First, condition your mind to know that it can run 7:38 pace for 10K. Then, continue to train your mind and body so that same pace eventually becomes manageable for a half marathon. Keep making these small steps in your mind (and, of course, your training) and you’ll soon consider 7:38 per mile to be a feasible marathon pace without having to take a huge leap of faith.

Consider Desiree Davila, who went from a 2:44:56 marathon in 2007 to a 2:22:38 in 2011. The thought of dropping nearly 55 seconds per mile off her marathon time in 2007 might have seemed too daunting to contemplate. But with slow and steady progress, along with constantly redefining her perception of what she thought was fast, Davila was able to claim a spot on the 2012 Olympic marathon team.

Find A Faster Group
Another simple strategy to help shift your mindset about what you think is fast is to look for training groups that are above your ability level. This doesn’t mean you need to do every workout with a new group or be careless with your training, but surrounding yourself with faster runners will transform your perceptions of paces and race times. If you’re trying to break through and dip under 3 hours in the marathon for the first time, surrounding yourself with 2:45-50 marathoners will make your goal pace much less intimidating.

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This strategy is one of the main reasons elite runners flock to training groups. For a starry-eyed runner out of college, the thought of making an Olympic team seems outrageous and impossible. However, if they join a training group and surround themselves with athletes that have already achieved that goal, it makes the possibility of running that fast real — and almost commonplace. Surrounding yourself with some of the faster runners in your area removes the mystique and awe of running fast.

Whatever your strategy, be mindful of the deceptive paralysis that can take hold when you become intimidated by your increasingly faster paces or goal times. Don’t let your own perceptions about what is fast prevent you from taking that next step in your racing. Shift and transform your mindset and you’ll gain more confidence in your training with each step you take in your progression.

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