As of Tuesday, January 8, 2013
As many of you in the area are preparing to toe the line at the Houston Marathon this coming weekend, I felt this to be the perfect time to talk about conquering those 26.2 or 13.1 miles, not just physically, but mentally. Races lasting longer than a few hours can really begin to take a toll on the mind, and being prepared both physically and mentally can really go a long way when your body starts to hurt and your mind is left to contemplate the task at hand.
Mind over matter
I have often told my clients that success in athletics can be partially due to mental toughness and conquering mental hurdles that may fall in the way of getting to the finish line. Of course, you have to be physically ready to tackle an athletic challenge, but when it comes down to those sections of the race when your body is starting to yield to the pain and discomfort; your mind ultimately has to take over. Nike nailed it on the head with the slogan of "Just Do It." A strong athlete who can race well is able to focus on the task at hand and turn negative thoughts around to continue on with the endeavor that lays in front of them-just do it.
Have a mantra
This may seem quite elementary, but it works. You may have thoughts or words that have popped into your head while on a training ride, swim, or run. There may be an inspiring quote that you have seen that works to encourage you. I have often talked out loud to myself while competing in an effort to spur my performance on. Writing your mantra on your arm with permanent marker so that you can look down during the tough times can also work to your advantage.
Keep a "bank" of positive thoughts
I have often told my clients to make note of those tough training days or races when they have overcome and conquered, keeping it in their back pocket so that they can pull it out at any given moment. It may even be a tough life experience that you have overcome that you can fall back on. The saying goes, that which doesn't kill you can only make you stronger. Keep those tough experiences in mind when you reach those rough patches of a race and keep telling yourself that if you conquered those circumstances, you can surely conquer this one as well.
Visualize readying yourself for the race
When I say to visualize, I don't mean to obsess about the race and waste useless energy on worrying. I mean to visualize each segment of the race and walk yourself through it, the bad and the good, to prepare your mind for the challenge to come. I will often lay the night before and think about the start of the race and how I am going to take off at the start, and even imagine what I will do when swimmers swim up on me. I visualize the bike and run course and how I will come in and out of transition. Performing mental mind work before hand can be helpful in preparing you mentally for race day. Slow and steady often wins the race when it comes to endurance racing.
Break it down into manageable parts
Whether your race is 10 miles, 26.2 miles, or 140 miles, breaking it down into smaller segments can help it appear not so daunting. In the longer races, I like to break each discipline down into parts- I never think about the whole race at once. When running a half or full marathon, I always suggest to break it into one mile segments. Taking it mile by mile allows the mind to know that each mile you get a bit of a walking and refueling break.
Endurance racing isn't for everyone. It takes a lot of focused training and mental toughness- not to mention sacrifices you will make in time that you would otherwise have to spend with family or to devote to other important matters or social time. Careful planning and execution of your endurance training and nutrition plan are vital pieces to the puzzle. Spending countless hours training, especially on your own, can go along way in preparing for the mental challenge. Ultimately, the payoff of crossing the finish line of something seemingly "impossible" will fill you with an over-the-top exhilaration not to be found anywhere else.