©roguerunning.comYou have put in months of hard work, blood, sweat & tears in preparation for this race, and at some point there comes the moment where you are bound to wonder: WHY?
Why do I do choose to suffer?
Why am I running for hours on end?
What do I think I will accomplish?
This is insanity.
This moment usually comes at a time when you are nervous about an outcome and your performance. You have invested so much and yet the process itself seems so insignificant, almost stupid. If this is something that has happened to you, know that you are not alone.
Many others, from the elite to the final finishers, have the same experience. For some it is a short flash, one wiped away like a stray hair or an annoying bead of sweat. For others it becomes a debilitating insecurity, a "BIG QUESTION" or a frantic meltdown. The difference in these two reactions to the same frightening moment is in the preparation an athlete has put in for the event. Not just the miles, the drills, the stretching, the nutrition and the sleep, but also the mental preparation the athlete brings to their final week before the big event.
After months of training it may seem that now all you can do is wait. Wait for the race to roll around, wait to get your packet, wait through a few restless nights of sleep then wait in a line at a porta-potty before the gun that will send you and thousands of others on their way. One of the most important parts of your training begins now. It won't happen with your feet, with your nutrition, with your race strategy or your sleep the night before the race. It will happen in your mental preparation for the event.
The importance of mental preparation cannot be overestimated. Many coaches consider the race itself to be 90% mental effort/10% physical effort and while that is essentially true for the 10K & shorter races, it is also a very important part of your marathon race plan. Consider it a primer on how to get your head in the game. You will certainly need all the help you can get.
• Finalize HMGP/MGP: If this hasn't happened, get it done. You need to go into the event with a basic pace goal to help you keep controlled in the early going and have a periodic reminder of your goal in the later sections of the race. Do not allow yourself to run this race based on "feel" - you are guaranteed to start too fast and pay the price as you hit the hills. Figure out your goal splits, study them, memorize them, write them on your hand.
• Review Your Training: It may seem a little premature to begin giving yourself a hearty congratulations prior to the race but it is important that you look back at this point in the program and recognize the commitment, sacrifice and effort that you have put into this race. By reflecting on what you have already accomplished you can moderate any nervousness associated with the coming event. It is the unknown that will frequently stir up your emotional state and cause you to begin to doubt yourself. Go back to your training log or to the scheduled workouts on the website and take the time to review them week by week. Take notes on your most difficult workouts, your best workouts, the runs you didn't want to lace the shoes up for but you did, the long run or race that really cemented in your mind that you were capable of accomplishing this awesome goal. You've done the work; trust your training.
• Visualize Success: Perhaps the most neglected element in any athlete's race preparation is the step of visualization. To some, the term visualization conjures up uncomfortable emotions, often due to a misunderstanding of what the process entails or a hesitancy to see this the effectiveness of this important tool. Visualization is the surest way to ensure the best race experience possible. If you have trained your body for 6 months, running over a thousand miles in training, why would you ignore your mind? On race day your mind will either allow you to be successful, or doom you to feeling you've failed. You owe it to yourself to work on the mental side of the game in these final two weeks. This isn't some mumbo-jumbo psychobabble; it is fundamentally preparing the mind as you've prepared your body for the effort ahead.
o Review your Training: As noted above, review the notes you took on your training log, the workouts page and your race results. Savor the workouts and long runs, both the positive and negative aspects of the preparation, and remind yourself that you have done the work; you are prepared for the battle ahead.
o Know the Course: You've run it plenty of times in training, but it can't hurt to study it one more time. Drive the course with another person at the wheel. This will allow you to take notes, to really concentrate on the course's changes, the twists and turns, the dips and rises, the sections that the road surface changes, etc. You live in this town, there is no reason why you can't get out on the course and prepare yourself mentally for the race.
o Create your Own Race: Once you have a very good idea of the course, find a quiet time (preferably each evening before you go to bed) to lay down in the dark and begin recreating as much of the course as possible. After you begin doing this consistently you will be surprised at how much easier the process becomes. After 1 or 2 days of visualizing the course, try to picture yourself running your mental course. Imagine the crush of people at the start, feel the collective tension and your own nervousness. Then breathe deeply and notice how you can control the nervousness with calm, controlled breathing; hear the gun go off and see the arms, elbows, feet and bobbing heads moving forward. Take another deep breath and remind yourself to relax and run conservatively, to laugh at the rabbits out in front of you that are not following an effective race plan. As you cross mile markers, look down at your watch, see the mile splits click off like clockwork. You are on pace, you are in control, you feel great, you will meet your goal.
Each day try to start from the race's beginning and go through to the last point you were when you stopped visualizing in the last session. Review, then pick the race back up, just as if you'd placed the race on pause. Consider what the aid stations will look like, how you will negotiate your way through them. Plan visually how you will access your electrolytes, your fuels. Plan for a snafu to occur; maybe you have an emergency trip to rest room. Visualize calmly scanning for a portapotty and getting in then out quickly, regaining the race in a controlled, relaxed manner. Consider the way your body felt in the last few long runs, as the miles piled on and your mind went a little kooky. See yourself working though this bad patch by getting some fuel into your system to snap your mind and body back into perfect concert. Most importantly, work yourself over the final miles on the race course.
If you don't visualize anything else you need to think through the final 10K of the race. It is at this point where you need to have prepared to be on autopilot - when your mind tires and begins to shutdown, it will do what you have practiced mentally. If you haven't visualized at all then you can expect for your system to go into a survival mode and begin to slow down. At the same time, you will begin to hear only the negative self-talk that you have been rehearsing for your whole life.
You cannot undo years of mental patterns without creating new patterns to replace them and this is why the visualization process works. By walking through the race you can create your own script for how the race will be run and not have be at the mercy of the weather, the pace, the race course or your old mental patterns. You are in control of this event and because of that control, you can relax with the knowledge of what to expect and how the race will unfold. When this occurs you are much less likely to have a confidence crisis going ino the race.
You know your pace.
You know you've done the work in training.
You know the course.
You've visualized every bit of the course and are prepared for any difficulty.
You can relax in the knowledge that you WILL BE SUCCESSFUL.
When this all happens you can relax in the assurance that you've done everything in your power to be successful.
All you need is to go out and take what is yours.