7 Mental Tips for the Final Miles of a Race

runners at finish
Ole Jensen - Corbis / Getty

Whether you’re running a 5K or a marathon, the final third of the race can be both physically and mentally grueling. Sometimes staying mentally tough and being able to fight through some discomfort can be the difference between a race you’d rather forget and a new PR.

Here’s a collection of mental tips to get you through the last miles of a race. Choose the ones that you think will work best for you, and be ready to start using them when the going gets tough.

1. Push Out Negative Thoughts

If you let negative thoughts, such as “I feel tired” or “I can’t do this,” creep in, you’ll start to believe them. Your inner voice will dictate how you feel. Shake off the negative feelings by replacing them with positive mantras like, "I feel good," "I will finish strong," or "I got this!" You'll eventually start to believe them. Keep repeating positive words such as "strong" and "believe" and "tough" to keep the negative and fearful thoughts away. You’ll start to feel stronger and more confident about your finish.

2. Go Fishing

Pick a runner in front of you and focus on catching that person. It's helpful if the person is wearing a bright color or something that stands out. Imagine yourself hooking him or her with a fishing rod and then start reeling him or her in. Once you pass them, find another one to catch and pick him or her off. If you don’t like the fishing analogy, picture a rope around that person and pull them in.

This is just one of several mind games you can play.

3. Set Mini-Goals

Pick a spot in the distance—such as a sign, spectator, or mile marker—and focus on getting there. Once you reach it, pick a new spot. The final miles will go a lot faster if you’re focused on reaching goals and setting new ones. And you’ll feel less anxious because you’re paying attention to the present, not how you’ll be feeling in the future miles.

4. Smile

You’re feel more energized when you’re happy. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, fake it until you make it. Race spectators like cheering for happy runners, so you could also get some more cheers to give you a boost along the way. Another possible bonus is that a race photographer captures nice race photos of you.

5. Check Your Form

Practicing mindfulness, or staying in the present, can help you focus your mind and reduce physical tension or discomfort. You can be mindful by paying attention to your form and movements. Do a total body check, starting with your head. Make sure you’re looking up and ahead, not down at your feet. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed, not hunched over. Try to engage your core. Don’t hold any tension in your arms, wrists, and hands. Drop your arms to your sides for a few seconds and shake out your hands. Make sure that your feet are landing under your hips, so you’re not overstriding.

6. Focus on Your Breathing

You can also stay in the present by paying attention to your breathing.

Make sure you’re taking deep breaths from your belly. Inhale through your nose and mouth, and exhale through your mouth. Focusing on the rhythm of your breathing can be very relaxing and comforting.

7. Think About How Far You've Come

Don’t focus on how far you have left to run. Think about all the miles and minutes that you have already run. You got through all that and it's behind you now. Then just run the mile that you're in. Before you know it, you'll be crossing that finish line

Continue Reading